South London parking cash cow

Profits made from parking charges by Wandsworth Council, south London, rose by 79% to an eye-watering £16m last year, according to an analysis of figures for 2011-12 by the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM).  An ever bigger percentage rise—the biggest in the country—was achieved by Kingston Council, also in south London, where parking profits increased by a staggering 320% to £3.53m.

Both councils appear to be using increased parking charges as a cash cow to pay for free bus passes for the elderly. ‘The largest portion [of parking profits] is spent on paying for the Freedom Pass scheme for older residents, as well as taxicards for disabled people and paying the travel costs of disabled children,’ said a Wandsworth Council spokesman; a statement echoed by Kingston Council's spokesman.

In November, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin was warned by the country's largest provincial cities that the national free off-peak bus travel scheme for the elderly has created a ‘financial time bomb’. ‘Councils are having to contend with an ageing population continually driving up the cost of concessionary travel,’ said Peter Box, chairman of the Local Government Association's economy and transport board. While no one wants to deprive pensioners of their bus passes, paying for them this way is an unwelcome incentive to raise parking fees yet further. Of course, some councils work more efficiently so that they can maintain that service and hold down parking charges, like Trafford Council in Greater Manchester.

London councils made £218m in profit from parking charges last year, up nearly 18%, according to the IAM. Nationwide, councils in England increased their parking profit by 14.9%. ‘All surplus income from parking must, by law, be used either to support parking or to support public transport or improve highways,’ said a spokesman for London Councils, a lobbying organisation for the boroughs.

However, the IAM said the amount spent by London councils last year on road safety education and publicity fell by 22% and all revenue spending on transport by councils rose by just 2.4%.  ‘Some London councils are making enormous profits from parking, while cutting road safety spending,’ said IAM chief executive Simon Best. ‘Councils must recognise the burdens already faced by motorists and rule out any further rises in parking fees.’

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