The car parks with 198 different tariffs! It’s the latest war on motorists – councils who charge drivers according to their vehicle’s emissions. And you’ll need a degree in astrophysics to make sense of it
- Bath the latest city to implement sliding scale system using exhaust emissions
- Councils claim the goal of all this categorising is to improve air quality
- Critics say it represents a stealth tax which threatens to drive people away
Had the Romans faced the same sort of challenges parking their chariots as day-tripper Simona Florea did with her diesel van earlier this week, one wonders if they would have bothered founding Bath in the first place.
Confronted with a giant sign littered with a jumble of words, symbols and numeric charts, the 41-year-old was completely confused and definitely unimpressed.
‘It makes no sense to me,’ says Mrs Florea, a nurse who was on a sightseeing trip to the city with her delivery-driver husband and four-year-old daughter. ‘Our vehicle takes up the same amount of space in the car park as others but we are getting charged different amounts.’
Of course, it wasn’t so long ago that all it required to park your car was to find a space and then the right change for the machine. Not any more.
Because across the country a new front has opened in the war against motorists.
Confronted with a giant sign littered with a jumble of words, symbols and numeric charts, visitors to Bath look unimpressed
The new system adopted by Bath and other councils charges motorists on a sliding scale based on their exhaust emissions
Daniel and Simona Florea, from Hereford with daughter Carolina, claimed the system made no sense
Not content with imposing charges to drive your car into a growing number of city centres, councils are now also targeting certain vehicle owners with increased parking fees, too.
And, worryingly, those in the firing line are often those who can least afford it.
Because the new system adopted by Bath and other councils charges motorists on a sliding scale based on their exhaust emissions, owners of electric cars are charged the least — while the owners of old petrol and diesel cars are hit the hardest.
While in Bath that will see some drivers paying almost 50 per cent, or 80p, more per hour, some London boroughs impose an eye watering £6.50 hourly parking surcharge for diesels.
It’s not just what many argue are unfair costs — but its complexity as well. The sliding scale of charges means that, for example, the Bath system now has a mind-boggling 198 separate tariffs covering the council-run car parks.
These cover the length of stay — from one hour to 24 hours — and how much a specific vehicle would pay depending on seven emission bands or, where that information is not available, four engine sizes.
A different fee is charged depending on whether the car is diesel or non-diesel, the latter category covering electric and petrol
Those using Bath’s council-owned car parks enter their registration details into one of the ticket machines.
It then calculates the amount the driver needs to pay based on a vehicle’s carbon dioxide emissions, in line with records held by the DVLA and used for road tax purposes.
Where no emissions rating is available, including all vehicles registered before 2001, the charge is based on engine capacity.
Anyone wanting to know in advance what they will pay would have to use their smartphone to scan a QR code on the car park’s sign that then links to a series of four different tables on the council’s website.
Councils — almost all of which are Labour or Liberal Democrat — claim the goal of all this categorising is to improve air quality.
Councils — almost all of which are Labour or Liberal Democrat — claim the goal of all this categorising is to improve air quality
Where no emissions rating is available, including all vehicles registered before 2001, the charge is based on engine capacity
Similarly perturbed was accountant Katie Dobson who was on holiday from Sheffield with her husband and two children, having travelled in her petrol two-litre Seat Tarraco
‘The new charges aim to incentivise motorists with more polluting vehicles to use more sustainable alternatives when visiting the city centre, like Park and Ride, and encourage a shift to public transport, walking, wheeling [covering wheelchair users and those with mobility scooters or rollators] and cycling,’ is the way Bath’s Lib Dem-run council puts it.
But critics claim it represents a stealth tax which threatens to drive people away from towns and cities where businesses are already struggling because of lack of footfall.
Winchester City Council recently introduced a seven-fold increase in its Sunday parking charges on the basis that ‘air quality doesn’t care what day of the week it is’.
Outraged residents accused them of acting like a ‘Soviet politburo’ while killing off trade and deterring church-goers, forcing council bosses into a screeching U-turn.
There’s no sign of that in Bath, where this week visitors such as Mrs Florea and her husband Daniel were struggling to get to grips with the new system. ‘I’ve never seen this anywhere else, but I saw the sign which told me I might be charged more,’ he says. ‘I put my registration number into the machine but I’m not sure whether I have or haven’t been charged more. Either way, I’m not happy about it.’
Similarly perturbed was accountant Katie Dobson who was on holiday from Sheffield with her husband and two children, having travelled in her petrol two-litre Seat Tarraco.
‘The charge was a bit of a surprise,’ the 46-year-old says. ‘It’s another tax on motorists.
‘There are some people who have no choice but to have the car they’ve got even if it does have higher emissions. They can’t afford to change it.’ It’s a point echoed by Hugh Bladon of the Alliance of British Drivers.
‘Very often the cars they are penalising are older cars that the population who are less well-off can’t afford to replace,’ he says. ‘So what they are doing is penalising the poorest people in society.
‘Councils all over the country are desperate for money and they have got a hatred for anything to do with cars, so they regard them as an easy target. But the more they do this the more they will kill the centres of cities and towns.
‘If I had a business in Bath I know what I would do — I would move it out of there as fast as possible.’
Signage at this car park previously showed 130 possible tariffs available to motorists, prompting ridicule online after radio host Danny Baker highlighted it to his internet followers last year
In the London borough of Lewisham — also Labour — electric vehicles using its Blackheath Grove Car Park have a fixed tariff of £1.50 an hour
From Extinction Rebellion protesters bringing traffic to a grinding halt to ever-expanding clean-air zones, there can be no doubt that motorists are on the front line of the climate change battle.
But while many are keen to do their bit to help the environment by switching to ‘greener’ models, for those struggling during a cost-of-living crisis the maths simply does not add up. Not only do electric vehicles cost up to a third more to purchase, the Government has removed many of the financial incentives that encouraged early-adopters to make the leap.
Now, instead of the ‘carrot’, motorists find themselves facing the ‘stick’ as councils target more polluting cars with a raft of new charges.
Most high profile of these are schemes that see vehicles entering cities facing daily charges based on their emissions.
In London, for example, motorists whose cars do not meet the required standards of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) face a £12.50 fee.
Other cities such as Bath, Birmingham and Bristol impose charges in Clean Air Zones (CAZ), again aiming to reduce air pollution by deterring drivers of older, more polluting vehicles from entering them.
Now the same approach is being extended to cover paid-for parking on streets and in council-controlled car parks.
The latest such scheme was launched in Bath in September.
This was despite a public consultation in which almost 70 per cent of the respondents said they did not support the proposal.
‘How do you expect struggling families to pay these charges? You are forcing them into even more poverty,’ read one response. ‘Not everyone can afford new vehicles. Totally disgusting.’
Another read: ‘Air quality in Bath is fine, we’re a tiny town [city] with significantly less pollution than anywhere else already. Please focus your time elsewhere other than gentrification as there are many more significant issues in Bath such as drug abuse and homelessness.’
Not that public opposition deterred Bath & North East Somerset Council.
In a report by council officers it said such objections were not ‘unexpected’ and that parking was an ’emotive subject’.
‘The council recognises the cost-of-living crisis and is sensitive to the current pressure on families,’ it stated. ‘However, we cannot ignore the need to act to progress measures which aim to improve air quality.’
It claimed that under the new charging structure, a third of car parkers will not have to pay more. And that of the remainder who will see a price rise, two-thirds of them will, on average, have to pay ‘only’ 11p an hour extra.
Interestingly, given Bath’s popularity with overseas tourists, because foreign vehicles are not registered with the DVLA they are automatically charged at the highest price for the chosen duration — even if fully electric.
The tariff paid by diesel car owners is the highest, with an hour’s charge for the most polluting diesel vehicles coming in at £2.50 an hour compared with £1.70 for a zero-emissions car.
It’s a particularly bitter pill for their owners to swallow. The last Labour government introduced tax breaks to encourage their purchase on the basis that they emitted less carbon dioxide than petrol-powered cars.
But it has now been shown that they emit other harmful pollutants, known as nitrogen oxides.
While Bath’s is the newest scheme to launch, in London the use of emission-linked parking charges is increasingly widespread.
In July, the Labour-run Royal Borough of Greenwich council introduced its own version, with the aim of ‘encouraging’ people to drive more environmentally-friendly cars. It now costs three times more to park a high-polluting car than a zero-emission one.
In the London borough of Lewisham — also Labour — electric vehicles using its Blackheath Grove Car Park have a fixed tariff of £1.50 an hour. That compares with £4.40 an hour for the most polluting diesel.
Signage at this car park previously showed 130 possible tariffs available to motorists, prompting ridicule online after radio host Danny Baker highlighted it to his internet followers last year.
Signs have since been streamlined, with a fuller list available only to motorists who scan a QR code that takes them to the council’s website.
Meanwhile in Labour-run Lambeth, since May motorists with a diesel car face paying a surcharge of more than £4 per hour to park on the street in Waterloo, south London, with a maximum tariff of just over £13 per hour.
Amongst those bearing the brunt of such charges is 29-year-old Nick Fulton, a catering engineer who relies on his diesel Renault Kangoo van for work.
‘I use this van five days a week, 12 hours a day, and I’m driving with equipment all over London for my job,’ he says. ‘Work helps me claim some of the money, but I still take a step back sometimes and think, ‘How much?’ when it comes to parking.
‘I hope something will change, but to me it seems like it’s all about making money rather than making the air cleaner. I think the English people will just pay it though. We’re all bark and no bite here and not likely to complain about it.’
But that’s not always the case — as councillors in Winchester recently discovered.
Although not emission-based, the charges they introduced were, again, designed to the background of self-imposed climate change targets.
In July the city council introduced new rates for all motorists, charging them the same on Sunday as for any other day of the week, as well as making them pay to park overnight for the first time.
It saw fees on a Sunday for more than four hours increase in some car parks from £2.10 to £17.
The move was introduced in an attempt to reduce pollution by ‘helping to deliver the carbon neutrality plan’, which commits the council to delivering its services in a carbon-neutral way by next year.
But the changes were greeted with a wave of opposition from business owners, volunteers and worshippers at Winchester Cathedral, with one of the car parks affected just a few hundred yards from the seat of the historic diocese.
Among them was church-goer Olive Bramley who travels to the city from nearby Micheldever to attend an 8am service.
The new fee structure saw her pay a £3.30 overnight charge — because she was parking so early — as well as £1.80 to cover the first hour of the new day rate.
Incredulous, she wrote to the council to check the new parking charges were correct. When she was told they were, it was suggested she instead use a free car park a 15-minute walk away.
‘That’s quite a walk, not even necessarily for an old person, but for someone who finds walking hard,’ the 74-year-old says. ‘There’s no thinking going on, it’s ‘Let’s just get as much money as possible’.’
Faced with growing opposition, the council has now partially backtracked, reducing the overnight parking fee and introducing volunteer permits that give free parking to people who provide services to the community within the city centre.
A victory of sorts, albeit a small one. And one that is unlikely to stop other councils from continuing to target motorists in ever-more cynical and baffling ways.
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