Park and ride fees set to change in bid to reduce ‘thriving’ city centre parking

Park and Ride prices are set to change to help reduce the number of people parking in ‘thriving’ city centres.

Essex County Council is proposing to reduce a weekday adult ticket from £3.60 to £3 at Chelmer Valley and Sandon Park and Rides into Chelmsford. But it is also proposing to increase Saturday weekday adult tickets from £1.50 to £3 at those sites.

A new reduced–priced Park and Ride ticket of £2.50 is also being planned for people using the services between midday and 3pm Monday to Friday across the three sites. The changes were drawn up following a passenger consultation.

It will be undertaking a further consultation for proposing the removal of the child and adult weekly and monthly tickets to encourage further use.

The council says it wants to change the prices to encourage more people to switch from parking in city centres – data shows that Park and Ride passenger numbers have not returned to pre-Covid volumes while city centre parking is largely recovering.

Previous figures submitted by Essex County Council revealed that at the Chelmsford Chelmer Valley site the daily average occupancy levels fell from 815 in 2016/17 to just 120 in 2021/22. The council says data suggests that the site is operating at just 12 per cent capacity. Average numbers for the first five months of 2022/23 suggest a daily usage of 186.

Sandon rarely operates above 50 per cent capacity – usage fell from 1,468 per day in 2016/17 to 392 in 2021/22. Average numbers for the first five months of 2022/23 suggest a daily usage of 486.

The data highlights that December 2018 saw the highest daily average with approximately 508 tickets sold per day at Colchester. Since the pandemic, the number of tickets sold at the site has dramatically decreased and it is currently operating at just 25 per cent occupancy. Average numbers for the first five months of 2022/23 suggest a daily usage of 187.

The council has accepted the park and ride services are “not as commercially successful” compared to pre-pandemic but says it recognises “the important role the service provides”. Last year the council forecasted the service in Essex to lose £1.3m in 22/23 due to “significant income shortfalls”.

It has submitted a planning application to Chelmsford City Council to broaden the types of activities allowed at the sites including church services and drive-in cinemas in a bid to improve income.

But the council is pressing ahead with its proposals to expand the existing Chelmer Valley Park and Ride site by 500 spaces and the Sandon site by 350 spaces. It says that although passenger numbers have dropped following Covid, passenger numbers are expected to recover over time.

Essex County Council adds that both Chelmsford and Colchester City centres are “thriving” – both city councils are reporting high usage of the short-term car parks with numbers having returned to pre-Covid levels.

Chelmsford long-stay car parks are seeing numbers between 37 per cent and 118 per cent of pre-Covid numbers dependent on where they are located. Most commuters have not returned five days a week.

The council says it has no plans to alter the child fare of £1 or the concessionary fare of £1.50 at this stage. But it adds if ticket volumes do not increase sufficiently as a result of introducing the proposed changes it may increase these fares in the future to address any shortfall in income.

The park and ride strategy is expecting the service to achieve a breakeven position by 2026/27. But meanwhile, the changes are set to see income at the Chelmer Valley site fall by £16,000 and by £34,000 at Sandon.

However, the council says its long-term aspiration is to grow passenger numbers through cheaper fares and a comprehensive marketing strategy, which will include a “change behaviour program”. It says the price changes will be reviewed after 12 months.

In a statement as part of a decision set to be agreed by cabinet members, Councillor Lee Scott said: “To grow the passenger numbers on the park and ride services, we are proposing changing the Chelmsford and Colchester park and ride ticket prices following a consultation.

“The new simpler ticket offer will encourage residents to choose the park and ride service over driving into the city centres, thus improving air quality for the Chelmsford and Colchester residents.”

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter