Park and Ride. A simple concept that takes the hassle out of motoring in City Centres.
Roll up in your car, often just off a motorway or a trunk road, park up, buy a ticket, hop on a frequent, posh bus and Bob’s your uncle. Simples.
Oxford has 5 park and ride sites and it works well. Others are dotted around the country. But one park and ride has bitten the dust, and we’re going to be all the poorer for its loss. “Woosh” in Worcester has “wooshed” its last.
I was there back in 2001 when it opened. Originally with buses operated by Midland Red West (now First), it later went “in house”, with Worcestershire County Council taking the reigns with attractive Mercedes vehicles sporting a “Woosh” fleetname.
It did what it said on the tin. “Wooshing” between the Perdiswell site on the outskirts of the City every 10 minutes or so, the attractive facility seemed to be a great idea to tackle the ever-growing traffic congestion in this attractive, historic City.
Now, it’s gone. A victim of more cuts in a Council that has to save £25m per year annually over a four-year period. There’s no room for sentiment, nor, seemingly, for a longer-term view of the impact of this closure.
The money people point to the decline in usage of the site. It loses £186,000 per year, apparently. The closure is part of a wider £1.6m saving being made to council-supported services across Worcestershire, although the cuts haven’t been as savage as first mooted.
Nevertheless, it’s a blow to those of us who see beyond the endless stream of cars choking town and City centres.
City and County Councillor Paul Denham thinks it is down to lack of awareness. Speaking in the Malvern Gazette, he says;
” The full potential of park and ride is not being realised because the service is not properly advertised. The cheapest council car park costs £3.60 to park all day but park and ride is only £2.20 return including parking. A weekly park and ride ticket is only £8 – many more visitors to Worcester would use it if they knew this.”
A fair point. But how do you raise awareness? And who pays for the advertising? And, like many Cities,there is a reluctance to physically limit where cars can go. Businesses cling to this idea that if you restrict the car, you potentially damage business. A recent Greener Journeys report tackles this myth, but with a lot of nervousness following the recent economic woes, there isn’t the will to experiment with such plans.
In 2008,Perdiswell Park & Ride was used more than 450,000 times. Last year, it hit a record low of 274,935. Just 200 cars use it on some days. On figures alone, it is easy to see why the bean-counters have struck.
Another Councillor, Richard Udall, is equally concerned. In the Worcester Observer, he says;
“When you look at the alternatives when Park and Ride is gone the alternative is for people to use their cars. This effectively means we are sentencing Worcester to further gridlock more choking and more congestion”
And Councillor Joy Squires, Worcester’s Labour parliamentary candidate, said: “Surveys have repeatedly shown that traffic and congestion are the top concerns of Worcester residents and this will deter both employers and tourists”.
Normal bus services stop outside the Park & Ride site, but these are less frequent and it isn’t clear where you’re supposed to park your car if the site is closing.
Another Worcester Park & Ride site – from Sixways to Worcestershire Royal Hospital – appears to have escaped the axe for now.
These are no doubt difficult decisions for the Council to make. There is a much wider political argument to be had about Government spending, and how much they give to Councils for local services. Faced with ongoing annual cuts of £25m, it isn’t difficult to understand that something like Park & Ride is a relatively painless cut to make. In the short-term, it just means that the motorists carry on into the City to do battle for the ever-more elusive car park space. “Only 200 cars” using it on a bad day may seem a good enough reason to close it, but that is 200 more cars to choke the City. In the longer-term, it damages further. It says that there really isn’t an alternative for motorists to “do their bit” and stop choking the City. The car parking charge may be marginally more expensive, but it isn’t a game changer.
And yet the best park & rides are great adverts for buses to those who aren’t regular users. The smartest buses are usually on park and ride, and if it makes people consider that buses aren’t quite as bad as they’d imagined, it may even encourage them to consider a greater use of buses. Coupled with bus priority, simple, competitive fares, attractions like free wifi and posh seats, etc, it begins a virtuous circle that says, hey, you’d be a fool to carry on driving into all of this – it’s much simpler and quicker on the bus. “Woosh” may not have had free wifi, etc, but the buses were immaculate, comfortable and attractive. And when I was there taking photos in the final week of operation, an elderly couple started talking to me, expressing their regret that a “great idea” was being stopped.
And I agree entirely. The closure of the Worcester Park & Ride may be a short-term economical fix for a cash-strapped Council, but the wider view is much bleaker.