Park and Ride. Time to take stock?
A park and ride scheme has been running in Canterbury now for over five years. The park and ride scheme is a good idea. As we know, it is based on the notion of intercepting incoming traffic and at city limit car parks and transferring the last part of the journey to the energy-efficient convenience of short high quality bus ride into town. Two park and ride sites have already been opened and a third is planned for south Canterbury. The third site will feature an out-of-town car park built on farmland--in itself a contentious issue, and , if the pattern of commercial development associated with other park and ride sites continues, may well be the platform for the more development on high grade agricultural land well beyond the city limits.
Now that there is some statistical evidence to examine the effectiveness of park and ride it may well be time to take stock and ask if the scheme works in the way that was intended . Some would argue that it is city traffic that causes the most pollution, frustration due to congestion and traffic accidents. If this is the foundation upon which park and ride is built, is it a substantial structure upon which to build future traffic management policy? Let us look at some of the effects of park and ride. From a statistical standpoint it emerges that park and ride actually does two things.
It encourages MORE people to travel to Canterbury (by car of course--how else can you get to a park and ride?) than did so before. These are new journeys encouraged by the provision of “easy” parking in out-of-town car parks.
Second, it actually takes away business from energy-efficient medium-haul bus and train. People who travelled by these modes abandon them because it is simply easier and cheaper to use park and ride.
So what is the effect? Well, For a start, there is actually MORE traffic beyond Canterbury than there was before park and ride--and that traffic is a direct result of the “easy” out of town parking. It there is more traffic , then there is also more pollution--but of course, it is dispersed more widely in the rural areas where there are less people to complain. Moreover, not only is there more traffic beyond the city limits, but there are also more serious road crashes. 70% of fatal road crashes occur beyond the urban mass. The result? More traffic beyond Canterbury, more crashes and perhaps more fatalities.
But surely it cannot all be bad—can it? The “damaging “ short car journeys to the centre of Canterbury will have been reduced. Well yes, possibly. But traffic levels in the City have mainly stabilised since the introduction of park and ride. There has been no dramatic downturn. Have YOU seen the difference?
So if a number of short range journeys have been reduced but traffic levels have not, then what is happening? Could it be that extra through traffic takes the place of road space vacated by car journeys that now terminate at city margins? And of course, those car journeys will be much longer than the 2KM hop from the out-of-town car park into the city centre which they have replaced! Perhaps we need to re-consider park and ride.
If it is a traffic generator then it can play no part in a sustainable future. If road traffic as we currently understand it has no long term future, then why are we investing so much in out-of-town car parks? Does the commercial benefit of attracting more visitors to Canterbury override environmental considerations? What low-energy, low pollution, quiet, low floor (for mobility impaired) modes of public transport can you think of to serve us in the next Millennium? Electric bus? Tram? Light rail? We do indeed need to think again.
Eric Parkinson. (from Canterbury Environment Centre News, March 1997)