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Jury still out on park-and-ride schemes

For 40 years, councils have tried to solve city-centre congestion with park-and-ride services. Do you think these schemes work?

Bus in Salford

In the early, halcyon days of motoring there weren't many cars on the road so drivers were able to bowl along briskly and park wherever they liked.

Unfortunately that didn't last long: by the 1960s the problem of congestion was already an issue in some cities and the concept of park and ride was developed. 

Pilot schemes in the 1970s

The idea was that motorists would drive to the edge of a city or town, park there and then travel on to the centre by bus.

Trial services began in Leicester, Nottingham and Oxford in the early 1970s, joined in the 1980s by other cities such as Bath, Exeter and Chester.

During the 1990s councils were able to apply for funding from central government to set up park-and-ride schemes with the aim of reducing congestion, air pollution and parking problems.

Their growth accelerated considerably and by 2005 there were 92 sites located across 40 cities.

Save money & cut pollution

Park and ride can help commuters and shoppers save money, as it's generally far cheaper to pay for this service than hours of parking in the city centre. 

However, the response from motorists varies. 

Some feel that having to drive to the park and ride, queue for the bus and repeat the process on the return journey is annoying and time-consuming.

Others appreciate saving money, being able to miss out on the stress of driving in traffic jams, and the shorter journey time that comes from travelling in a bus lane. 

Park & Ride: Oxford success, Stockport failure

The Oxford park-and-ride schemes are seen as being particularly successful in that they keep traffic out of the historic city centre and have a high satisfaction rate among users.

A 2013 survey by consumer watchdog Passenger Focus found 96% of users were either very or fairly satisfied with the service and 65% felt it was good value for money.

And in a 2009 survey carried out on behalf of the Historic Towns Forum, 94% of the councils who responded felt their park-and-ride services had been a success. 

But not all schemes work out. Some have been closed down because they cost too much to run, or because they're not being used enough.

For example, in 2009 a £5m scheme in Stockport was closed just two years after opening because of poor take-up. Fewer than 100 cars had been using the 600 capacity car park.

Will car use really fall?

Busy motorwayAnd the general principles behind park and ride have also attracted criticism. 

Opponents point out that the fact that a car is needed in order to use most of them could actually promote car use, and that locating the sites on the edges of towns and cities can add to urban sprawl. 

"From our perspective, park and ride is something of a sticking plaster,” says Andrew Allen from the Campaign for Better Transport.

"It can help reduce congestion in some towns and cities, making them more attractive places to live and to visit.

"But in others it has the potential to make congestion worse, especially at places where the park-and-ride sites coincide with busy areas such as motorway junctions.

'We need alternatives to cars'

"And the schemes don't unshackle people from their cars, but merely add a bus journey onto the end of one by car.

"We feel that it would be far more effective to give people alternatives to getting in their cars in the first place."

Allen adds: "For example, schemes like the Busway in Cambridge have shown that when a decent public transport option is available, people will take it. 

"In its first year of operation passenger journeys were 40% higher than anticipated, and 54% of users had a car available but chose to use the Busway instead."

What do you think?

So what about you - do you think Park and Ride is just a load of faffing about, or a convenient and economical way to travel into the city centre?

We want to hear from you! You can share your views on our message board below.

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Maria McCarthy

Maria McCarthy

Maria McCarthy is a motoring and lifestyle journalist and author of The Girls' Car Handbook and The Girls' Guide to Losing your L Plates published by Simon and Schuster. She's also a regular on BBC Breakfast news, and local and national radio, commenting on motoring matters. Her pet motoring hates are potholes and high fuel prices.

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