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BREXIT, Shoupistas Behind the Time, Lime, Bird, and the Law

January 15, 2019

Peter Guest

Christmas has gone and the turkeys have regretted the vote, pretty much like an increasing number of my country men and women who are having second thoughts about what happens in March. 


Yeah, BREXIT again, with less than three months to go we seem to be no closer to sorting out the bigger issues. For example, my elder daughter is moving to the Netherlands and, as of today I don’t know whether or not I will need a visa to visit her! Of course, by the time that you read this it may all be sweetness and light. But, just in case it isn’t, all food and aid packages will be gratefully accepted.


It’s 2019, the year in which yours truly reaches my three score and ten; so, if the columns stop coming after February, you know why. One of the things that happens on 12 February is my driver’s license expires. The theory is that at 70, the powers that be re-evaluate my fitness to drive, including a medical test if they think that it’s necessary. In reality, they send me a form, I tick a few boxes, telling them stuff they have on file, and hey, presto, I get a new license. Think that I can see a cost saving here Mrs. May.


For most of the last decade or so, I have occasionally worked with the giant Iberian parking operator EMPARK. Up until a few months ago, EMPARK was privately owned. Emparque was a Portuguese operator and around 2008/9 they bought the parking arm of Cintra, which is in turn a subsidiary of the giant conglomerate Ferrovial. 


The combined company, renamed EMPARK, was about five times bigger than the Portuguese parent but, with a little help from the banks, still privately owned by the same seven guys. Now here’s the thing, their focus was on growing the business long term, not the next bottom line. 


The result was unambiguous, the company was profitable, it was growing, worth well over a billion dollars, and with an average 30-year contract term, incredibly stable. Last year that changed. The company was sold to a bank, who have already shed the small, but growing, UK subsidiary. I can’t help but fear that a company that succeeded by being long-sighted and building relationships is already moving to a mainstream short-term future. I hope that I am wrong.


Calling all Shoupistas


When I first read “The High Cost of Free Parking” by the Donald, I thought that the most important part was the total demolition job that he did on the ITE trip generation rates. His arguments that this was little more than smoke and mirrors was obvious to anyone that could read and had a basic knowledge of regression; and if that wasn’t good enough an aerial shot of any U.S. downtown proved the point. 


This part of the book never really got much coverage, and when I asked why, Donald said that there just wasn’t any interest in the idea of rejecting the ITE led concept of minimum parking standards.


A decade on the world has turned and it seems that cities are finally looking at how much parking is actually needed rather than simply doing a tick box, “I don’t have to think, I have a book” exercise. Although, I see that some places have finally kicked the ITE Ju-Ju into touch, I am not getting any sense that there is a plan B yet.


Now, a plea for all you Shoupistas out there. Abandoning minimum parking standards is not new or indeed newsworthy; so please stop shouting about it. Sorry, guys and gals, but we worked this one out here in little old London town almost 50 years ago. 


By the 1960s Britain was finally recovering from the trauma of a second world war, the economy was growing and people with disposable income wanted the trappings of wealth, i.e. a car. Car numbers were growing and so the planners imposed minimum parking standards, to make sure that the roads were kept clear. 


Then the classic urban planning screw up, still perpetuated throughout most of the world; pull down a three-story building, well that was done by Herr Hitler, put up a six-story replacement; job done and let’s all drive into a beautiful future. Two little, tiny, insignificant problems that it’s hardly worth mentioning. 


Problem one, the building’s twice as big so there are twice as many trips, twice as many people, twice as many cars. Problem two, the roads don’t get any bigger and although modern urban traffic control can work near miracles, all that happens is we built congestion and grid lock. 


So, in 1973 London published the then revolutionary Greater London Development Plan which replaced the old minimum standards with the revolutionary idea of maximums. Parking was more or less eliminated for new developments, one space per 12,000 square feet of development in the center, a little more, further out. The predicted end of the world didn’t happen, London and the economy carried on growing, property prices kept climbing. In short, it worked. 


Now, lest you Shoupistas think that I have just proved your case, this story comes with a truly big, massive, even gigantic health warning. Nineteenth century London was built around the most extensive public transportation in the world. 


Most of central London is within about a quarter of a mile of either a bus stop, tram stop, railway station or underground interchange, so all we did was remove the car option for some trips whilst ensuring that there were plenty of other ways to travel. So, don’t try this at home kiddies, not anyway unless home has a really, really well-developed mass transit alternative.


Scoot, Scooters


And finally, back in October when I was attending the Temecula group, I got a little confused when people started talking about scooters. Here, the word Scooters usually describes the Italian two-wheeler motor vehicle of the 50s, looking a little like something from the Jetsons (ask your dad) and best seen in a Visconti film decorated with Sophia Loren as a passenger. 


But no, they were talking about Bird and Lime, who apparently have electrified the kids’ toy and they can be hired by the hour. Unlike bike rental schemes these vehicles have no docking stations and rely on part timers collecting them, charging them overnight and then getting them back to the curb for the next day. 


They are completely unregulated, except that some cities are apparently capping numbers; accident rates are already becoming a concern. We are boring here. They are too dangerous to pedestrians to use on the footways and too great a risk for the riders to mix in vehicular traffic, so they are banned on public roads. I suspect when your law makers get to where we started you might reach the same conclusion. Not a good bet for a long-term investment, me thinks.


Happy New Year



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