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Free policy idea: a right to park
Giving neighbourhoods the power to control their own parking rules
Since I’m no longer paid to be a full-time think tanker, I am no longer able to draft policy papers, seek endorsements for reform ideas, build coalitions and so on. I don’t have the time. But I have had, over the years, a few ideas that I never managed to get published, so here is one of them for free. I call it ‘Right to Park’.
It’s as simple as this. Right now, Britons living in cities or the more popular suburbs tend not to have off-street parking. Often this is because they live in charming Victorian or Georgian streets with minimal setbacks, like the Italianate street in Little Venice on which I used to rent a tiny flat: Blomfield Road.
In these cases, the parking is usually organised based on a permit system, run by the council. We call these CPZs: Controlled Parking Zones. By giving out permits only to residents, they allow residents to (usually) get a space, while keeping outsiders from parking willy-nilly at busy times under fear of parking fine. They tend to be split into small, logical, neighbourhood-size lettered zones, although there are exceptions – including the extreme exception that the entire Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is a single zone.
Controlled Parking Zones are a pretty good innovation. A version of them inspired the latest post on the excellent Ziggurat blog, which discusses how to make policy reforms popular and successful, and by which I have been heavily influenced in writing this post. But in some places, locals could probably do better.
I suggest we give locals in a given lettered zone the ability, if they wish, to take community control of the parking in their area. In lots of areas, locals will do nothing, since they believe the parking system is run pretty well already, and they have no ambition to do more with the spaces. In others, they will see potential to do more.
Local residents who take over control of their parking spaces will then be able to use them for a much wider range of uses. For example, if they live in central London, lack gardens, and have low car ownership, they may decide that they wish to reduce the number of permits, and would prefer to turn some of the spaces into lush residents’ gardens, or a widened pavement, or space for extra street trees.
Others may wish to turn every tenth or twentieth space into covered outdoor bicycle parking, as seen in some areas already. What I would personally give to not have to carry my bike through my house, opening both my back and front doors, every day!
Others still may wish to rent out some of the parking spaces on the open market. Residents’ permits are usually several hundreds of pounds per year. But the market rate is dramatically higher: well into the thousands per year, and hundreds of pounds per month. Residents could pay for free parking for themselves by renting out a fraction of the spaces in their neighbourhood. Residents could even permanently sell off spaces: selling off half the spaces in a zone might provide as much as ten thousand pounds per household – this could be invested, or be used to help children with a deposit. It could also give drivers who work in a local business or shop nearby a guaranteed spot to make their commute easier and more relaxing – and it could potentially be right by their office!
The most ambitious streets might even move the pavement to the existing parking spaces, and extend their properties. There could even be space for slim community buildings, and modular shops or cafes in areas where commercial infrastructure is lacking.
Or, of course, people could choose to keep things exactly the way they are right now. That’s their choice. But this would give them a chance to realise the full potential of a highly valuable asset: inner city parking.