A recent report on vehicle emissions and air quality observed that “as much as 50 per cent of traffic congestion can be potentially caused by drivers cruising around in search of a parking space, or a cheaper space.” It follows that significant amounts of emissions and air pollution are thus created by drivers looking for that elusive space, and that vast amounts of fuel are similarly wasted. But then we’ve all probably been guilty of doing this from time to time – perhaps because we simply haven’t considered the possibility of a shortage of parking, or the unexpected high parking costs in a town or city that we don’t know.
Well, as with journey planning and traffic avoidance, and a host of other motoring subjects, the world of smartphone apps can come to the rescue. It’s quite an eye-opener to discover that apps such as the free Parkopedia and AA Parking (which is supplied by Parkopedia, but costs £1.99) will give you a map display selection of parking locations in any city, and many towns, their hourly costs, and sometimes the current space availability, and then direct you, using your mobile, to the parking place that you’ve selected.
Our test on a suitably random location, in this case using Parkopedia for the destination of the Passport Office in Peterborough, produced a map showing over a dozen suitable nearby locations. Along with each of their numbers of spaces, hourly costs, distance from your destination, and a street view photograph of the entrance, you also get some user star ratings, available payment methods, and it integrates with Google route guidance at the tap of a finger – all impressive stuff. If there’s no information given on space availability, there’s usually a contact number listed you can call. So here’s a huge possibility of saving time and money, and probably also saving a lot of frustration from driving around searching for a parking space, if the system works for you. Some Parkopedia user ratings we found were perhaps a touch negative, but most were pretty favourable, saying things like “Brilliant! A must for any driver. 99 per cent of the car parks are listed, with up-to-date charges and full information” and over 80 per cent of user ratings were of four out of five stars. For regular travellers visiting unfamiliar places it sounds like something near to a necessity to us. You can also find Parkopedia at home on your PC though, or a mobile broadband enabled laptop when you’re out and about, although you’ll then need some other source of route guidance.
While we’re on the subject of urban parking, we’ll touch on the subject of park and ride systems available in many bigger towns and cities now, and tourist centres like Oxford and Cambridge. There are criticisms that people drive longer distances to get to them than if they just drove into town and parked up, or, more justifiably, walked to their nearest bus stop and left the car at home. But that doesn’t work for many people, and the reason why park and ride car parks are full is because they are working very well. Critics of the Cambridge service have said “There does not appear to be evidence of an overall drop in vehicle flow within the city” and that “while cars parked at the park and ride sites are themselves no longer contributing towards city congestion, traffic flows are being generated elsewhere – for example, flows between car parks and homes from locals at whom the park and ride was not targeted, but who nevertheless are attempting to commute to the service.” Do you really need to be “targeted” to use and benefit from park and ride? That sort of criticism just doesn’t stand up, for us, and if your local town or city has a service available, then there are really few excuses not to use it, whenever you can. This possibly applies to some of those who are thinking about using the parking apps reviewed above, and if you regularly visit any town or city with a park and ride service, you should at least familiarise yourself with its locations and consider whether it might just be a useful solution for you. Using Parkopedia, or a quiet ride in on a park and ride bus is far better preparation for a tough business meeting, a job interview, or a nice restaurant meal than a panic-stricken drive around strange streets, looking desperately for a parking space that may never actually materialise.