By Neil McAlpine

It is World Car Free Day on the 22nd September and this resonated with me due to presentations I have been giving recently on car parking management. During one presentation I was told “I need to get to work, my company needs to give me a space” I found this an astonishing statement and it made me wonder what else a car parking space could be used for and why should an employer be required to provide any spaces for employee use.

Let’s be backward about this and take the second point first. I have heard many reasons why an employee is unwilling to leave the car at home and regularly see the following statements in response to travel habit surveys:

  • I live 30 miles away and public transport takes too long
  • I need to take two buses, it is ridiculous to ask me to do that
  • The weather in this country means walking and cycling is not possible
  • It costs too much to take public transport

Of course these statements are not impenetrable barriers to using a mode other than the car, but instead highlight the perceived inconvenience associated with each of the options.

Taking them in order why should an employer provide all employees living 30 miles or more from their work with an expensive parking space as they are not responsible for where employees choose to live, to avoid employees having to get up slightly earlier to commute by public transport. Does anyone think that is fair?

Taking two buses is not a problem, millions of people do it every day and is not a reason to drive into work. The weather is changeable, we live in the UK not Uruguay and we are going to have rain. As Billy Connolly once said it is not the wrong weather, it is the wrong clothes. We have coats, umbrellas, showers and lockers which means this is not really an issue and travelling by foot or by bicycle is certainly healthier than sitting in a tin box in a queue of cars spewing out fumes!

Lastly, the suggestion that it costs too much to take public transport is generally due to people only comparing the fare to the cost of purchasing fuel.  However, take into account increased costs associated with insurance, depreciation from the extra miles, congestion and parking charges (either directly out of pocket or through an employer having to pay for the space), using the car is generally more expensive. I have, therefore not heard a really good reason why employees use their car and expect their employer to pay for a space for it.

Now we have everyone travelling more sustainably, what can we do with those car parking spaces. The most obvious answer is to develop them and build more residential, office or leisure buildings, which can bring money to the economy. There are other ideas such as:

  • introducing green space and more walking and cycling routes making people healthier and happier,
  • pop up restaurant spaces supporting a diverse and healthier eating environment,
  • outdoor gyms,
  • seating areas for relaxing etc

The list of things which could be done with the space to improve people’s lives is restricted only by your imagination.

Lastly, here is one you might not have thought about. Not having parking spaces could lead to more money in your back pocket as your employer will no longer need to pay for the spaces and the extra money could be reinvested into the employees. Of course, those employees will also be healthier, happier and more productive as they will be using sustainable modes to get to work instead of sitting in their tin box and they will be delighted when they gain a pay rise, as employers are no longer paying for an expensive commodity which is not required or needed.

To go back to the beginning, an employer does not need to provide employees with a parking space. It needs to provide employees with the ability to have a choice and if employees chose to park you need to compensate your employer and be fair to your fellow employees who do not have that perk as they travel sustainably (at a direct cost) by paying for your car park space.

In essence, a car free environment is:

  • good for employees wages;
  • good for employers through costs savings;
  • good for the environment;
  • good for employees health; and
  • good for congestion.

So why do we have them?

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Join the conversation! 4 Comments

  1. Inteeesting article Neil! I’ve only worked in major cities – Sydney, London and Bath (questionable if this is a major city, but nonetheless no city centre parking!) – and there has never been an expectation that employees would have a parking space so the attitudes you quote are surprising. In London and Sydney particularly, many people live more than 30 miles away and take more than one mode of transport to get to work. My 15 minute walk followed by two trains takes over an hour and is carried out rain, hail or shine! The cost is astonishing, with many people spending 10-20% of their salary on a commute. The only part of your argument that I disagree with is that we, the employees, choose to live far from the office – find me someone in our London office who can afford to live in a family home within a short commute of St. Paul’s cathedral! So do you think parking expectations are a geographical issue? If I worked in a business park in the middle of nowhere, I might expect to have a parking space, or employer provision such as minibus pick up from the nearest station – would that be reasonable?
    P.S. how about community gardens and allotments growing food on disused car parks? Getting people gardening, improving air quality and providing food! We could put bees there too!

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    • I like the idea of allotments, will add that to my presentation list. I also agree that London is a special case overt housing but I would suggest that very few central London offices have a lot of parking for employees. I also agree that the employer should provide you with a choice so if you work more than 800m from the nearest public transport stop then the employer should provide some means to get there. It has to be a two way thing.

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  2. Great blog. As someone who used to live in a city where driving as a norm to now living in Sydney where parking is so expensive, I have to say I enjoy my commute on a train (most of the time)! I get a chance to read which I love. I often watch others and see them use the time catching up on instagram and Facebook; watching TV episodes; doing work; doing their full make up; sleeping; grocery shopping; studying and playing games. If they were driving all they could do is watch the road. So I see using public transport as a gift of time.

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    • With Wi-Fi on buses and trains now I also witness many people working on the commute. Employers could also help here by giving that work time back to the employee i.e. you work effectively for one hour on your commute then you can take that as part of your working day.

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Neil McAlpine, Sustainability, Transportation

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