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Park and ride services in Chelmsford may be taken over by the city council if discussions scheduled for the new year are successful.
The leader of Chelmsford city council, Stephen Robinson, wants park and ride to be more closely aligned with the way council car parks are run – thereby allowing incentives discouraging people to drive into the centre of the town to be controlled more effectively.
Cllr Robinson said: “ECC have agreed to have a meeting in January to talk about the principles.
“We want to have a coordinated pricing policy between the car parks in the centre of Chelmsford and the park and ride so we can incentivise people to use the park and ride and discourage people from causing congestion by driving into the centre of Chelmsford.”
The discussions are likely to focus on pricing and where the responsibility for any financial contribution will lie and how pricing can encourage more to use park and ride. In 2018/19 Sandon saw 845,000 passengers and Chelmer Valley 429,000.
Collectively they made a loss of £23,739 in the last financial year.
And any significant downturn in attitudes to using park and ride could leave the responsible authority having to pay more to keep the services going.
But with ticketing charged at £3.50 per passenger rather than per car, for many it makes more practical sense to park in a car park if there is more than one person in the car.
Cllr Robinson added that with proper marketing – especially given that work to redesign the Army and Navy junction may not start until 2023 – there is an opportunity to permanently change people’s driving habits.
He said: “It’s technically a county council function and the issue is whether they can delegate that to the district tier.
“We have got to consider all possible ways to give people alternatives, realistic and practical alternatives to driving in the centre of Chelmsford. And we think that if setting the pricing of the car parks and park and ride can be done in cooperation rather in isolation then we can achieve that.
“At the moment the pricing of the park and ride is set according to the cost of running it. It is not related to the overall saving in congestion.”
He added that he was still pressing the county council to identify a third site on the west side of Chelmsford.
A discussion scheduled between Essex County Council and Chelmsford also comes against a backdrop of plans to scrap free travel for pensioners on park and ride buses – instead bringing in a flat £1.50 fee after 9am.
Cllr Robinson said: “The county council objective is that it shouldn’t cost them any money.
“We are saying that’s not the only objective. The objective is to reduce congestion in the centre of Chelmsford.”
Sandon Park and Ride will be open for three Sundays in the lead-up to Christmas.
The Sunday service, which is being funded by Essex County Council, Chelmsford City Council and One Chelmsford, will run from 9.30am until 5pm on three successive Sundays on December 8, 15 and 22 at the Sandon Park and Ride site.
Tickets will be priced at £1.50 for adults and £1 for children.
The boost comes as preliminary works got underway on November 25 ahead of the removal of the Army and Navy flyover in the new year.
A spokesperson for Essex County Council said: “It would be premature for Essex County Council to comment on any future discussions.”