The Northern Echo today includes a story about Conservative proposals to have free disc parking within the town, and car park sale days. Nich Wallis has opposed these plans, pointing out the traffic congestion which would be caused by free parking, and the disincentive to use public transport if this went ahead. His own plans are for a third hour of free parking after paying for two.
Personally, I feel there's already a huge disincentive to use public transport. Car parking costs 80p an hour for short stay, or £3 for all day in a long stay car park. Bus travel from the edge of town to the town centre costs around £1.20 each way.
Even as a relatively car-light family, we used the car to get to the train station on Saturday. It cost us £3 to park for the whole day. Getting the bus would have cost us almost £5 for the two paying adults. If our children were a little older it would have cost us £7.20.
We're a family who will happily walk places, rather than using our car. (I cycle to work and my wife walks with my daughter to her nursery - the 1-year-old get pushed the 1.7 miles, while the three-year-old walks.) However, given the choice between paying almost double to take the bus, we choose to avoid the wait in the cold and the unpredictable bus service.
How likely is it that a car-committed family will choose to take the bus, walk or cycle into town to do their shopping, given the increased financial cost of doing so?
The argument given for keeping car parking costs low is that we have to compete with other shopping centres, but if a family are getting into their car to get to the Town Centre anyway, why not just pop along the A66 to Teesside Park or Middlebrough instead?
Encouraging non-car access to the Town Centre is surely the best way to ensure its long-term survival, rather than going further down the path of car-dependance.
What is the cost of free car parking?
Update: In my hasty look this morning, I couldn't find the story on the Northern Echo website, but in Nick Wallis' post about the Conservative parking proposals in Darlington, he links to The Northern Echo story Political gulf widens over town car parking policies.