I made a deal with my wife in the first few months of marriage that when we had children I would pay for the closest parking space available to make life a little easier. I still feel nauseous when I hear my pound coins clunking into the machine with only a piddly piece of paper to show for my money.
So I was spitting feathers when I heard that the Isle of Wight Council was hiking prices significantly. According to the Isle of Wight County Press:
From April, the cost of parking in a short stay car park for two to three hours will increase from £3.40 to £4.50 - a whopping £1.10 hike.
It will cost £3 to park for one to two hours, up from £2.40.
Long stay car park charges will increase by between 40 pence and 60 pence, and on street parking by up to 50 pence.
This increase is coming a couple of years after several car parks ceased to be free including the big car park at Appley. Prior to that, visitors could be seen asking each other where the pay and display machines were and looking bemused and then punching the air and hugging when a local explained that it was free.
But is £4 for 4 hours actually exorbitant or is it the going rate? After much googling I came up with this table which shows the price of 4 hours parking at the council-run car park closest to the sea during the summer at the 10 of the busiest seaside resorts in England (according to GB Tourism).
Also this is clearly only a snapshot. We could have looked at different time limits and some places (like Brighton) have a complex system of zones which makes it cheaper in other car parks further from the sea. Others offer different rates at different times of year.
For what it's worth, the Isle of Wight is still one of the cheapest (*shhh, don't tell the Council*).
I suspect local authorities do the same study and justify a price rise by saying everyone else is doing it. I appreciate that councils have been desperate for cash ever since the economy was ruined by a load of bankers (only one letter out, right? Arf arf). And I'm not one of these people who expects councils to provide social care, playgrounds, toilets and everything else on a budget of £13 a year.
According to On The Wight, Isle of Wight car parks raised £4.2m in 2016/2017 with a total budget of about £150m so it's clearly a big chunk of their income.
I'm certainly no expert on this but I wonder if there's an opportunity to influence behaviour through variable parking prices (crumbs, that was a very dull sentence, isn't this supposed to be a lighthearted blog?).
Bumping up seafront parking charges has always felt like a false economy since the less it costs, the longer you stay - and the aim should be to get seaside visitors to hang around all day.
I spend several seconds staring at the parking price board clutching my pennies and trying to work out the minimum spend I can get away with. Sometimes there are 3 or 4 of us staring upwards in the same direction as if we are waiting for a solar eclipse.
If you aren't rushing back to the car park in Shanklin you are throwing more into the 2p machines, eating more ice creams and hiring more pedalos. You can lose track of time and decide you might as well stay for lunch in a seafront cafe. The traders survive and the council sees the benefit in other taxation.
I'm not saying it should be free, but why not offer a reasonably priced fixed rate which applies whether you stay for an hour or all day? If you're visiting a resort for the first time you might not actually know what there is to do and how long you'll need to stay. And I can't imagine there are many people popping to Shanklin seafront to run a 20 minute errand.
For town centre shopping, I've always thought that councils would see the benefit of offering an hour or two for free, with charges for anyone staying for longer. It's a well worn argument but why would you pay £2 or £3 to visit four shops in the high street when you can park for free at Asda and get everything from there? Or just buy it from Amazon and get it delivered?
Anyway, my plan is to start working on a map of free and cheap car parks on the Isle of Wight. It'll be multicoloured with little flags and a complicated key and a five star rating system.
Or perhaps I need a hobby.