Wednesday 10 September 2014

Petrol Promotions, Prioritising Parking & Poor Passengers

As those who have followed this blog a while will know, I do have a car, but it sits (off street) most of the time. It does get filled up every so often and at the moment, I get to benefit from a "pennies" off per litre promotion my local (big, national) supermarket is running.

Actually, we don't tend to shop in our local (big national) supermarket very often and so on the infrequent occasion we need to fill up, it is only about a £2 saving on a 50 litre tank. The reason we don't need to fill up very often is we try and use the shops in our local area as much as possible and although for groceries it is still a national chain, it is a smaller shop which is within walking and cycling distance of home (and it is at the more "cooperative" end of the scale if you catch my drift).

The big store is designed for cars. It has almost direct access from a trunk road with a huge car park (although people always queue to get close to the door). The access to the trunk road also serves a 1980s residential development and as a result vehicles are prioritised over those walking and cycling - it has a staggered Toucan crossing to contend with which is arranged to not affect traffic.

At the store, walking and bike access is squeezed down the side of the building, although at least it connects to the cycle track which runs along the trunk road. The bike parking is at the far end of the store (away from the entrance) as trolley parking is prioritised. There is a bus route which goes into the store (no use to me, though), but it dumps people at one end of the car park, rather than stopping right outside and so passengers have to lug their bags through the car park to go home. The store sells everything and so it is not a place to go for fun.

Although the big store is actually on my way to and from work, I never go into it (unless getting petrol or using the car for a big shop), I prefer to make a slight diversion to use the local shops. I can park my bike right outside the door of the local supermarket and I also have access to the other shops. There is car parking outside (pay and display) and so there is still the option of the car for a bigger shop or the bus (which stops at the shops and within 2 minutes of where we live).

The more local shop has been running for years and I hope it continues to do well as it means we don't have to do a weekly shop at the big store; just pick up what we need as we go (and we have the other shops too). The trouble is, the big store is cheaper and so as well as being able to entice people there with a petrol discount, they can undercut the local shops. The flip side is that if walking or cycling, you tend only to buy what you really need rather being enticed to fill up the boot of your car.

The big supermarket is a classic business model. You can get anything you want under the one roof, there is plenty of free parking and as a result, the local streets are arranged to get traffic into and out of the site. This arrangement can be found at countless locations up and down the country and has us stuck into a loop with the supermarket business. I know there is the other model of large convenience stores, but they seem to be aimed at knocking out the smaller independents. At least with the local supermarket, there are still two independent newsagents in the same parade.

The big store's business model pays no regard to people who are not arriving by car and of course, there is no offer of a bus ticket refund, or loyalty card points for walking or riding to do your shopping - you are only valued if your mode has an engine. There are other examples of this difference in valuing people for their mode. Larger shopping centres often charge for parking (and unlike paid-for council parking, we don't hear that fool Pickles moaning about parking profits for private operators!), but one can often get money back for using the supermarket "anchor" store or perhaps the cinema. Again, no discounts or refunds for those arriving by public transport, foot or bike.

These sites are again arranged to stuff the traffic in and those trying to walk or ride (or live) around them be damned. It is of course easy to take a car park ticket from a shopper and stick it in a computer for a discount - it is a little harder to prove that you walked to the cinema! But, whole swathes of the purchasing population are treated differently because of their modal choice. In the public sector, it is the same. Zelo Street recently blogged about the hollow "victory" the newspapers had over hospital car parking in England. I recommend reading David Hembrow's post on free parking because as ever, there is a lesson to be learned from across the North Sea about providing real alternatives.

A few months back, Mrs RH spent some time in hospital (she is fine now, by the way, although she brought a small person home with her!) I was fortunate to be able to bike over to the (edge of town) hospital for frequent visits as I knew how expensive the parking was. When came to taking the kids visiting in the evenings, it was just not practical to use the bus (we were time poor between me getting home from work, getting the visit in and then home in good time for bed) and so we used the car. There are arrangements to help some patients and their families with parking charges at many hospitals (hence the hollow victory), but there is no campaign to help people pay for bus travel to hospital - especially as the fashion is now to have large, edge of town hospitals - again, all designed for motor car access.

Being an edge of town site, the hospital sits within a roads system designed for cars. In common with many places in the UK, it is a PFI monster which has centralised loads of services alongside other hospitals and smaller units having been flogged off as housing sites. If you live near a bus route which serves the site, then you are reasonably OK (although many routes end up literally going round the houses which is the outer-London arrangement). Live a few miles away from the site, or out of borough, then it will be multiple buses to get there. Train-wise, it is just over a 1km walk, but many pedestrian crossings and horrible subways.

I don't know if the parking charges cover the cost of running the car parks at the hospital, but it is expensive and I can totally understand why people get upset paying when the alternatives are so poor. If you are ill or visiting someone with a long stay in hospital, the last thing you should worry about is transport.

We never seem to learn from past mistakes. Our approach to transport seems always skewed to the car, never recognising that there are huge numbers of people who either don't or choose not to drive everywhere. Big stores and regional hospitals are a good example of the illusion of the freedom of choice. If the local shops go out of business, then it is the big stores who corner the market and immediately, the non car-using people are immediately at a disadvantage as they have lost their choice. Those already using the big stores have given up their choice in reality as their lives now include infrequent, but large shops with the car. With hospitals, we are promised the choice of where we are treated. For many, it is a struggle to get to their nearest hospital, let alone travel to the next town. There is no real choice for many.

As someone who is a small cog in the transport sphere, it is frustrating that many of the decision-makers and influencers don't see need to change how we travel and most importantly, give people real choice.


  1. Great blog. I work at a hospital. We actually have very little public parking available and it is one of the biggest complaints we get.
    The majority of people who come to our hospital will not have direct public transport links, but will have to change services in the city centre which is often what makes the journey so lengthy.
    My journey to work by bike (4 miles) takes me almost 30 minutes, when I have to use the bus it takes around an hour and costs me £4 per day.

  2. The smaller sites/units that have been sold off have usually been in city/town centre locations that made them convenient for public transport. For example, here in Bromley the general hospital was a short walk from Bromley South station and would have been on more than half a dozen bus routes. Now it's a Barratt housing estate and you have to go 3 miles out of the centre to get to the Princess Royal.

  3. I occasionally have to go to a large box superstore to buy stuff. It's a ways out from my city centre, next to one of those 1990s style box-shops-around-a-car-park arrangements and an even larger blue Swedish box, so I only go if I have a hankering for a better choice of crisps ;-)

    The car park is enormous, and they also offer petrol vouchers etc if you drive. Like your's, the bus stop is also at the far end of the car park.

    The bike parking is actually my main gripe at the store (I have complained to their customer services, but always get a resounding "Meh" - they really cannot see what the problem is).

    It is at the far end of the store, away from the entrance and beyond the trolley parking. Recently, they even removed half of it to make room for a small concession-style cabin of a well known locksmiths-and-key-cutters. So, this enormous "Extra" superstore with hundreds of car parking spaces, has a grand total of nine cycle stands (so, a maximum of 18 bicycles if you lock two to a stand), at the very far end of the building, hidden out of sight behind a locksmiths (a locksmiths!!!) and (as far as I can see) not overlooked by any CCTV.

    The bike stands are not "standard" sheffield stands. Instead, they are three isosceles triangles made of thinner tubing (taller end nearer the building) attached to a rectangular frame/base which is bolted (not concreted) to the ground.

    They are also set too close to the building, so unless you get the one space in the middle which seems to be OK due to the shape of the building, you have to lift your back wheel up onto a low railing which protects the base of the building's wall from rogue shopping trolleys. You then have a real job to lock your front wheel and frame to the lower 'point' of the triangle.

    And the last time I went, the middle of the three bases had been almost completely unbolted from the ground: I locked my bike to a stand on a secure base, and as I was leaving I mentioned to the young hipster on his fixie that the stand he'd locked his bike to was barely attached to the ground, "Wow", he replied, "I didn't even think to look for that...".


  4. Yep. If you don't happen to be driving, your convenience is a poorly considered after thought. The car is a great tool for us to make use of, but many are hopelessly trapped by it.

  5. My home town demolished their inner-city hospital to build a new one on top of a hill. The big question now, whenever anyone puts forward a bike plan, is :"but how do we get people on bikes to the hospital?" Hilltops should only be used for medieval fortresses.,151.6963843,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0xf017d68f9f00b90

    1. prime land in the city vs people being able to get there under their own steam - madness