How you know when there’s something a bit wrong with your transport and planning policies

When people choose to travel 50 miles to do their shopping.

From Horsham’s The Resident newspaper –

“I only really come to Swan Walk [Horsham’s shopping centre] to go to M&S. I go to Bluewater if I want to go shopping. The parking charges in Horsham don’t help.”

As you can see below, it is 49.8 miles from Broadbridge Heath to Bluewater.

This should, ordinarily, be considered an incredible, even extravagant, distance to go for ‘regular’ shopping.

But given the way our transport infrastructure is configured, it’s not so absurd. By car, the journey takes less than an hour. Factoring in the hassle of using a car in the first place, the extra time taken for the journey – 40-50 minutes longer than the time it might take to drive into Horsham and park up – is not so great an inconvenience. Naturally enough, parking your car in one of Bluewater’s 13,000 spaces is free, unlike the cost of a space in Horsham. Finally, there is, of course, the greater choice offered by Europe’s largest shopping centre, compared to the retail on offer in a town of 55,000 people – although whether this extra amount of choice accounts for the anonymous Broadbridge Heath resident’s decision to do nearly all her shopping in the former is doubtful.

What is interesting is that cost of parking in Horsham is now frequently described as ‘extortionate’ – especially so now that it is set to rise by between 20 and 50% in the next month or so. These claims of ‘extortion’ are somewhat overstated, given that people are quite at liberty to do their shopping elsewhere, where parking is cheaper, or indeed in places where parking is free – even places 50 miles away. This is indeed one of the arguments given against Horsham District Council’s decision to raise the charge – that it will simply drive shoppers elsewhere. This is an option shoppers would not have if they were genuinely the subjects of extortion.

Of course, many trips into Horsham have to be made; going elsewhere is quite obviously not an option if you have to visit a particular shop, or if you work here. The word ‘extortion’ is therefore revealing when it is used to describe the cost of parking for these kinds of trips, because it plainly suggests that people feel they have no choice but to park in Horsham’s increasingly expensive car parks.

The distance from Roffey, Horsham’s most distant suburb, to the town centre is 2.5 miles. Broadbridge Heath – where the anonymous Bluewater shopper lives – lies outside Horsham’s ring road, but is barely 2 miles from the town centre. Walking these kinds of distances, which may take up to an hour, is not particularly feasible, especially so if one is laden down with shopping.

There are buses available for these trips, but the cost of a ticket is similar to, if not greater than, the cost of parking – a spontaneous trip into town from Roffey and back again, for instance, will cost you £3.60.

The one remaining option, if you don’t wish to subject yourself to the extortionate cost of Horsham’s car parks, is to make these reasonably short trips by bicycle. Two or three miles is an eminently possible distance for anyone, and unlike the bus and car, a bicycle is free. It also provides a convenient way of carrying your shopping.

It might be instructive to consider the reasons why it’s not leaping out at Horsham’s residents as an obvious way of escaping the extortionate cost of the town’s car parks.

This entry was posted in Car dependence, Horsham, Parking, Town planning, Transport policy. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to How you know when there’s something a bit wrong with your transport and planning policies

  1. Adam says:

    Surely driving 50 miles at £0.40p per mile costs more than parking charges locally?

    • Yes, the cost of driving to the next town with cheaper parking is usually more expensive than the cost of parking in your own town. But the motoring costs are all pre-paid, and never explicitly shown to you, so you don’t “feel” them anything like as much as paying at the point of parking.

      Now if cars were all fitted with Taxi-style meters, clocking up the pounds as you drive, I think people would realise how expensive driving is relative to things like taking the bus and parking charges.

      The price of petrol/diesel is starting to be felt, though, with some people actively thinking “do I really need to drive this journey” because of the cost of filling up. The problem is that many politicians are still in “everyone wants to drive further than faster” mode.

  2. Charles Barraball says:

    If Horsham road users adopted a more friendly approach along, say, European, lines, more would walk or pedal to the local shops, be healthier and happier, and have more to spend there.

  3. This also highslights a lack of suitable bicycles available on the high street and in the bike shops generally…its part of the trillogy that chicken and eggs it way around the problem. Most bikes you find for normal people are MTB’s or hybrids without even a pannier rack at point of sale. The issue of bikes for transport is not being addressed at source by the bike industry who focus of hi profit high maintenance fashion bikes for the masses. If they make a bike with a basket its a chic lookalike with a price tag to match (but not componentry). Without bicycles that can carry even a half weeks food shop how can we possibly expect people to ride there and back? The people that have to ride to the shops for economic reasons tend to swing bags from the handlebars, no one is going to see that and think oh…might ride my bike tomorrow..
    When a manufacturer makes a cheap bike without fitting rubbish weighty suspension forks and fits a front rack instead, then we will know shopping by bike has hit someones sensible button.
    safe routes, secure destinations, and the right bike…that’s a bike that’s comfortable, low maintenance and with the ability to carry a sensible amount of shopping.
    This is the trilogy of issues that i think we have to address in order to get bikes as part of a useful transport system for everyone to enjoy.

  4. I think you’ve summed it up quite nicely here, I see my bike as an incredibly quick, cheap and convenient means of transport. I don’t think there is another mode that can offer the ease of parking (lamp post, sign post, railings, bike stand ANY fixed metal object really…..) fairly reliable journey times and relatively low running costs.of a bike. In central London this is hugely beneficial for myself as the vast majority of my cycling is for commuting I can in most cases leave my bike outside the office or even in underground/secured parking at a few sites.

    For this person to use Bluewater strikes me as incredibly wasteful, but then I guess as long as people see this as a preferable to using a bike then we aren’t ever going to get to the same level of cycling as seen on the continent.

  5. Paul M says:

    The observation that the car costs about 40p per mile is true of course, and indeed the Inland Revenue uses that number as the basis of its policy on reimbursement of business use claims, but it is misleading. Much more important in decisions about individual journeys is the marginal cost, and bar parking that is almost entirely fuel.

    A small to medium family car, driven economically, will do about 10-12 miles per litre, so your lady’s trip to Bluewater would use about 10 litres, or £13-14. Is parking in Horsham THAT expensive?

    More to the point of course, the low marginal cost nudges people into making journeys by car instead of by other means such as public transport because it is so cheap. Once you have beggared yourself to buy the damn thing, then license and insure it, it costs next to nothing to use. (I did respond once, in my professional capacity, to a HMRC consultation on car taxation that they should rebalance the tax burden, making cars materially cheaper to buy, insure and maintain, but recover the lost revenue and restore the overall cost with a steep increase in fuel taxation. That way some marginal decisions would start to tip in favour of alternatives. They thanked me for my “interesting” suggestion, and no doubt promptly binned it).

    It leaves local authorities with quite a conundrum. Traffic and the consequent parking congestion adversely impacts on people’s lives, eg where rail commuters or shoppers park across their drives in pursuit of free parking, even where plentiful paid parking is available, but also on the economic function of a small town – cars parked on-street for lengthy periods obstruct short-term visitors who just want to “pop in” for a pint of milk (leave aside the absurdity of that “need” for a moment) and so damage the interests of local shops. Consequently died in the wool true blue councils like East Sussex and Surrey are making big increases in existing off-street parking charges and introducing on-street charges in places where parking was previously “free”.

    In Haslemere for example, where I live, the streets close to the high street will have charges of £1/hour (average off-street charges rising from 60p to 80p) with the first 30 metered minutes free. Streets close to the station will have a charge of £1/hour, no free period, and a £5 maximum, compared with £4 for a day in the off-street. You would not believe the outrage this has sparked (actually, you probably would) with residents in the streets where charges are to be introduced strongly in favour, but residents outside those streets noisily protesting. And yes, I do mean residents, at least in part, because a sizeable proportion of the on-street parking either High St or station is by people who live no more than a mile away, within the town boundaries, who can’t be a*sed to walk or cycle, and who seem to think that their god-given right to “free” parking overrules their neighbours’ concerns about noise, obstruction, and heightened risk to pedestrians nearby.

    There might be one chink of light though. I have counted a grand total of 12 cycle parking spaces in the town, and I observed on this to our local county councillor who with alacrity put the council highways officers on the case to survey for an increase. I doubt it is because he really gives a monkey’s about cyclists, but it is something he can throw back at protesters as a constructive response to their concerns blah blah blah.

  6. Paul M says:

    I should clarify – 29 minutes would be free, 31 minutes would cost £1

  7. Angus H says:

    Agree with most of this, but I have to dissent regarding walking. If driving for an hour each way to Bluewater is normal (& burning maybe £15 of petrol in the process), why not walk 2-2.5 miles (45 minutes tops, 30 for many)? When I was little (late 70s/early 80s), you’d always see women with their own shopping trollies trundling up & down the high street – when was the last time you saw someone aged under 75 with one of those? Might not be practical for a full weekly shop for a family of 4 (there is online, of course, and there’s an argument that buying a week’s worth of food in one go isn’t the healthiest option anyhow, but many don’t think they have any alternative), but bikes are little different in that regard – even with panniers & a basket, I can carry more on foot with a rucksack and bags than I can put on a bike without the handling deteriorating to a point that I wouldn’t want to ride the roads around here. Anyways, for recreational shopping, if walking two miles each way is no longer seen as a normal or desirable thing to do, no wonder we’re a nation of fatties.

    To be fair, the knowledge that I’ll be carrying my shopping home does affect my purchasing decisions – it’s another reason to not buy bottled water or 2L bottles of Coke, and to get a few choice bottles of tasty beer instead of a 24-pack of watery crap – and apparently people Must Have The Choice, in the same way as they Must Have The Choice to make a hundred-mile round trip to look at t-shirts for two hours and not actually buy one.

  8. Greg Collins says:

    “It might be instructive to consider the reasons why it’s not leaping out at Horsham’s residents as an obvious way of escaping the extortionate cost of the town’s car parks.”

    Because the people of Horsham love their cars. One might say they (we) are addicted to them. Thus the council can charge what they like and shoppers will still drive two miles into town. They bought their houses in the satellite villages knowing that the internal combustion engine would power that choice. Walk around the car parks of Horsham and figure the capital investment in motor vehicles in our town. Money that would be spent in other areas of the economy if it wasn’t tied up in the depreciating asset that is a car. Having paid an arm and a leg for their motor of course they are going to use it, if only to justify the expense of having bought the money pit in the first place.

    The shops in Horsham are pretty dreadful, a 3rd rate M&S, no Debenhams, no John Lewis. A small scale replica of a real department store. Lots of folk go shopping in Guildford to do their shopping, and, whisper it quietly, some have been seen in Crawley too, I’d reckon rather more go to those locations than go to Bluewater.

  9. Some very interesting replies here, I have learnt something today.

    On this point…
    “If driving for an hour each way to Bluewater is normal (& burning maybe £15 of petrol in the process), why not walk 2-2.5 miles (45 minutes tops, 30 for many)?”

    There is an opportunity cost involved, if two options cost roughly the same in terms of time and money, but one provides more opportunity, in the form of a wider variety of shops, then people will generally take that option.

    • Don says:

      I would argue that for many people, a 45 minute walk would represent a massive and unacceptable cost, especially if you have to carry your shopping back home. One might get a bit sweaty and out of breath, for goodness sake!

      Angus H may be sensible and keen enough to do this, but I think most would rather sit on their a*se in a nice warm car listening to the radio!

      • David Lamb says:

        I don’t know Horsham. I live in north London and quite frankly walking for 2 hours along these polluted roads with aggressive and impatient drivers is about as much fun as a root canal. As an example, to cross the high road where I live requires a 4 stage staggered crossing, with a lengthy wait at each stage in order that motor traffic flow is not impeded. So if Horsham is similar to London then I’m not surprised no one thinks of walking around the place.

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