Goodness knows, it costs enough to run a car anyway, but parking is something else. Even finding a decent spot is hard enough, without evil tricks. But I’ll come to that in due course.
To give councils some sympathy, they have to control the flow of traffic and have for some years had a policy of rationing parking spaces and adjusting charges to encourage people to use park & ride systems or to leave the car at home and come in by public transport, while not putting off those who need to be there. You want people, but the fumes and congestion caused by traffic, quite apart from the fact that multi-storey car parks take up valuable retail space must be a factor. Against that, you don’t want to drive all the business away to out-of-town retail parks, and make the high street even more of a high rent no-go area than it is already.
No doubt it is a fine balancing act, and technology is improving to make it easier. For example, I often leave my car at Kelvedon station to get the train into London. Rather than having to worry about having the right change, I can call a number and go through a relatively pain-free automated process to pay by card, for which I am charged a 30p admin fee. Damn sight more convenient than some of the options, so why you might ask is this not a standard option on all car parks?
Where I draw the line are car parks which deliberately use tricks to cheat the innocent motorist. The example I will quote is the Riverside car park in Chelmsford, operated by Chelmsford council, though they all do it nowadays. As you drive into the car park, there is a sign telling you of the charges, and in smaller letters that the machines take coins only, though there are some also taking cards.
In fact, I found precisely one machine that took cards, and even then there is a minimum charge equivalent to the highest rate applicable. In other words, you would only choose to pay by card if you were staying there for many hours, or if you wanted to be ripped off.
So you park and check your change. Needless to say the machines do not provide change, and the charges are cunningly levied so you are forced to put in more change and therefore overpay. More money for the council, more cheated customers. By comparison, NCP car park machines take notes and do dispense change, but not these machines. The nearest shops are a brisk 5 minute walk in the retail park over the road if you wanted change… and if you were less than 2 hours that area is free to park. So why the hell not park there instead, since the council make life as difficult as possible? Good question! Next time, I won’t bother.
So a small plea to councils everywhere: if you want people to retain goodwill and use your services, treat us kindly and don’t take the michael.
Stop Press: this week I did not have change, so put in £2.70 to cover the parking fee of £2.60. None of the machines would accept me overpaying by 10p!! The following day I needed to be there around 4.5 hours, but the choices were £4.30 for 4 hours or £6.50 for the whole day. Reluctantly I paid the whole day fee, though someone later pointed out to me that there is a small car park opposite offering the day for £3.50. To hell with being ripped off!!
PS. Recently I reached the point of no return with these machines. I went for a walk with a friend at the country park in East Mersea, for which a charge of £2.20 is levied whether you stay five minutes or five hours. It’s not like there are any facilities provided to justify the charge, but it doubtless pays for some form of maintenance. That much I can understand, but when the machine swallows £3 in coins without returning any, I harangued the park ranger until he coughed up 80p change from the til at the tiny coffee shop. It is as good as theft, I told him, and the words saying no change is given are so tiny that you would never notice them. It is a criminal practice and it should be stopped without delay!