Free parking has been touted as a solution to ‘save’ ailing high streets, but it could discourage people from using buses and damage air quality in the process, writes Rebecca Reeve-Burnett, sales and operations manager of bus app VAMOOZ at Transdev Blazefield.
The face of high street retail may have changed but there will always be a hardcore of shoppers who don’t disappear to do their shopping online.
There is also a successful and robust group of retailers who value a customer-facing approach to retail that sits alongside an ever-improving hospitality offer.
With councils invariably looking for new ways to support town centres, and the booming growth of Business Improvement Districts (BID) doing the same, some brilliant ideas are being suggested.
But some divisive and damaging proposals are creeping in too — and free parking is one of them.
A tangible product
Retailers won’t save the high street by offering their products for free.
Parking is a tangible product — a way of accessing towns and cities that usually has to be paid for.
It mainly competes with bus journeys as cycling and walking are virtually free alternatives.
We welcome innovative ways of supporting retailers but councils need to realise that bus companies are retailers too.
So by offering what we offer — access to towns and cities — for free, it has the potential to put bus companies out of business.
Studies show that buses are the primary mode of access for city centres, accounting for one-third of shopping expenditure.
Over a quarter of all bus journeys are shopping trips and bus passengers also spend broadly the same amount at the till as car users.
Free parking puts this in jeopardy and equally has the potential to turn marginally successful bus routes into loss-makers.
Since those routes also take people to work, to school, to hospitals and community centres as well as into town, the implications could be much more far-reaching than fewer shopping trips.
Fewer bus trips and fewer bus services can only mean more congestion and poorer air quality — something which virtually everyone is joined together to fight against.
When 36,000 premature deaths are linked to poor air quality, it's easy to see why.
But buses can be at the forefront of reducing that number.
Buses aren’t just a way to get about — they’re super-shops, and with the government and bus companies investing millions into electric buses, they should be recognised as the key to seeing thriving town centres whilst reducing town centre emissions.
Photo Credit – Pixabay