Saturday, 1 March 2014

Reportage: Rail parking charges anger

Passengers have reacted with disappointment to news that parking charges could soon be introduced at Brighouse, Hebden Bridge, Sowerby Bridge and Todmorden rail stations.

Proposals emerged earlier this week to make rail users pay at stations where parking is currently free as the Government negotiates an extension to the franchise held by Northern Rail, the company which runs local services throughout Calderdale.

David Hardy (Lib Dem, Elland), member of the Transport Working Party on Calderdale Council, said the plans will discourage drivers from using the trains.

“It was always the way that if you travelled with British Rail you could park for free.

“At the moment, we’re trying to reduce car parking costs in Calderdale, so I wouldn’t support this at all.

“Rail fares are dear enough. If people are commuting, which I know a lot of people do, it’s a lot of money.

“The size of these car parks isn’t that big, so they aren’t going to make a massive amount of money from them,” he said.

Nina Smith, of the Upper Calder Valley Renaissance Sustainable Transport Group, said it is a severely retrograde step which will have a number of detrimental consequences.

“An unknown number of travellers will decide to drive to their destination instead of using the train,” she said.

“The impact of this is more air pollution on a road that already has very high levels, and more carbon emissions, thus contributing further to climate change. It will also add to congestion on already congested routes. There will be an increasing amount of on-street parking. In the case of Hebden Bridge, both on and off-street parking is already at a premium. The cost of going to work will further increase at a time when rail fares are rising faster than inflation.”

It is still unclear when the parking charges would be introduced - it is possible that they could be brought in as early as April - or how much they would cost, but there are no plans to charge for parking at Halifax station.

Todmorden town councillor David Tattersall, a keen rail campaigner, said introduction of parking charges was, in effect, a fare rise.

“It’s not good for rail travellers,” he said.

Northern Rail has stressed the proposals emerged at the behest of the Government.

A Northern Rail spokeswoman said: “We continue to have constructive discussions with the Department for Transport and Rail North on what they want to happen in the new franchise agreement for Northern between April 2014 and February 2016.

“As part of those discussions we have been asked to provide proposals that would reduce the cost to the taxpayer of running the railway as well as providing better facilities and information for Northern customers. The details of the new franchise agreement are still being finalised and we cannot comment further until it is signed.”

In a letter seen by the Courier, chairman of Metro James Lewis urged Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin to shelve the idea. He said: “We are not opposed to exploring efficiency options in the future, but believe that the adverse passenger impacts and impact on local highways and neighbourhoods (particularly of the proposed car park charges) have not been properly addressed in the proposals.”

This article was published in the Halifax Courier on February 28, 2014.

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