On the face of it there is a certain logic in making parking free and perhaps that’s why trade unions, Jeremy Corbyn and now The Daily Mirror are all in favour. After all, it helps make sure that health is free at the point of use. Some consider parking charges to be a tax on the ill.
In 2008, the then health secretary Nicola Sturgeon announced an end to parking fees at the vast majority of hospitals in Scotland. With the exception of three hospital that are tied in to Public Private Initiative (PPI) leasing of their car parks, charges were scrapped at 14 sites where fees had previously applied.
At the time, the ETA predicted free parking would lead to such overcrowding that the sick would no longer be able to get to hospital in the first place.
By 2013, The Sunday Post was reporting on ‘Hospital car parking hell’ in Scotland:
“A Sunday Post probe has revealed there are so few spaces outside some of the country’s biggest infirmaries motorists are resorting to parking in nearby housing estates and shopping centres as they try to seek medical help or visit sick relatives. Others are leaving their cars on double yellow lines, pavements, grass verges, loading bays and even dumping them in disabled spaces. It’s feared the mayhem is costing the NHS millions of pounds to meet the cost of missed appointments.”
The cost of missed appointments to one side, in a report in 2015, the Scottish Government admitted the policy had already cost £25m in lost parking revenue – a substantial subsidy that was not matched for other modes of transport such free bus travel to hospital.
| …there are over 500,000 staff at hospitals in England, and about 40,000 inpatient admissions every day
Clearly, travel to hospitals needs to be actively managed. After all, there are over 500,000 staff at hospitals in England, and about 40,000 inpatient admissions every day. That’s a lot of people for which to provide a free resource. Each mode – be it walking, cycling, bus, train, taxi or car – needs to be considered by the hospital as part of a comprehensive plan. The type of traveller is important too – the needs of the staff, patients, suppliers and visitors are different. Some staff are peripatetic, others remain at the hospital all day.
As a general rule, all-day parkers should park further away from the entrance than short-stay parkers. If the parking spaces closest to the entrance are reserved for the consultants it is not the best of signals to send out to the public.
Active management need not be limited to car park time limits or charges. Hospitals occasionally advertise for staff along the best public transport routes to reduce the demand on the car park. However, it is the location of a hospital which is most important. Following the general rule of location that the more people visiting a site per hectare the closer it should be to the town centre, subject to wider considerations, as hospitals have many visitors, they should be as close to the town centre as possible. In recent decades the health service has done the opposite and built hospitals in out of town sites – this policy should be reversed.
Finally, it’s remiss of those with responsibility for parking at hospitals to ignore the fact car culture contributes significantly to the sedentary lifestyles that are putting so many people in hospital in the first place. Public Health England (PHE) reported this summer that 6 million middle-aged Brits walk less than 10 minutes continuously each month at a brisk pace of at least 3mph. Surely, we should be subsiding active modes of travel rather than subsidising car travel.
Unfortunately, the subject appears too politically toxic for us to see any radical change. Little wonder the former Andrew Gilligan, the former London commissioner for cycling, once described parking as ‘the third rail of politics – if you touch it, you die’.
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