Dublin City Council wants to look at whether having variable parking charges based on vehicle emissions – or the size of cars – would be feasible, according to Brendan O’Brien, the council’s transport manager.

Just before Covid-19 struck, council officials had told the transport committee that they wanted to review parking charges, said O’Brien, at a climate and environment committee meeting on 12 October.

But they had set it aside for the pandemic, as the city grew deserted and few were thinking about parking changes, he says.

“Now that we’re gradually coming back to normal, it would be appropriate for us to come back and look at that again, next year,” he said.

The idea of the review would be to look at the price of parking permits, and of on-street parking, he said, and take into account the question as to whether as cars grow bigger and spill out of parking spaces, they should be charged more.

“How would we do that? Would it be based on emissions? Would it be based on size and length?” he said, at the meeting.

“It’s on the to-do list, it’s the best way I can describe it,” he said.

Already Elsewhere

Under emissions-based parking charges, drivers have to pay higher rates to park if their vehicles are high emitters of CO2 emissions, and lower rates for hybrid or electric vehicles.

Next year, the council will investigate whether such an idea would be feasible, said a council spokesperson on Friday. “And determine if a scheme could be put in place and what legislative changes, if any, are needed.”

Schemes in cities and boroughs across the United Kingdom offer a peek at the kind of changes that could be under consideration, and what the impacts have been.

In Newham, a borough in east London, zero-emissions vehicles enjoy free residential permit parking. The most polluting vehicles pay £200 a year. Houses with an extra vehicle pay an extra £100, or £200 for two or more vehicles.

Edinburgh charges residents £62.90 a year for residential permits to park lower polluting vehicles in the inner zones of the city, with higher polluting vehicles paying more, up to £580.40 a year. (Extra householders also face higher rates.)

Lewisham, a borough in south-east London, not only brought in such a system for residential parking, but also for pay-and-display short-stay parking – drivers with electric, petrol, or euro 6-compliant diesel vehicles pay from £1.50 to £3.50 per hour, depending on their emissions, and drivers of other diesel vehicles pay a £2 surcharge.

The Newham council says on its website that its incentive was to reduce the number of deaths related to air pollution.

“Each year, 96 people in Newham die prematurely due to the poor quality of the air that they breathe, “ it says. “Living in Newham is the equivalent of every man, woman and child smoking 159 cigarettes a year.”

Its website points to other areas with emissions-based parking charges – such as Westminster, Islington and Camden – and says that in those, diesel usage dropped by between 16 to 20 percent.

In London boroughs where no emissions-based schemes exist, the number of vehicles parking has continued to rise, they said.

Dermot Hanney, a transport planner based in London, said there isn’t enough information on whether emissions-based parking charges reduce emissions, or whether they reduce car use.

“We don’t know whether the number of vehicles has fallen or just the mix has changed,” he said. But regardless, it’s good that the number of diesel cars fell, Hanney said.

The Right Focus?

The charges might lead to more electric vehicles on the roads.

But one consideration is whether the council’s focus should be on nudging people to switch to electric cars, or to drop their cars altogether – and whether changes in support of the former risk undermining the latter.

In April 2021, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea refined its charges for parking permits, slashing an earlier fee of £90 for electric vehicles down to nothing.

After the change, electric vehicles with parking permits increased from 1,067 in March 2021 to 1,635 in December 2021.

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea didn’t respond to queries sent Monday asking whether the number of petrol and diesel cars with parking permits decreased at the same rate, to indicate that people had switched their cars out.

But some question whether encouraging drivers to switch to electric cars should even be the goal.

“Electric vehicles aren’t going to solve the problem either, they will simply replace the existing vehicles which isn’t a great solution either,” said Joe Costello, a Labour Party councillor.

The inner-city should be as car-free as possible, and linking parking charges to emissions would likely be a deterrent to driving, Costello said.

However, a 2022 study of Madrid by transport researchers at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid found that drivers with zero-emissions vehicles, getting free parking, were less likely to switch to cycling, walking or public transport.

In Ireland, the government has brought in grants and incentives to encourage people to switch to electric vehicles.

A recent OECD report on reducing transport emissions said that these policies would reinforce people’s dependence on cars to get around. “Further locking the country into a system that fosters growing car use and emissions by design,” it said.

Hanney, the transport planner, said that purely switching from a petrol or diesel car to an electric won’t be enough to reach emission targets.

“You need to reduce the kilometres of what you’re driving,” he says. “If people drive less, but they drive more polluting cars, that’s not such a bad thing.”

Hanney says councils should focus on reducing the amount of parking available. “It’s the only thing they have a lot of power over.”

Closing roads to cars and opening them to bikes and pedestrians, as in Marino and Ringsend, or future plans for College Green, requires more local buy-in and time, he says.

In its next city development plan – currently still in draft form – Dublin City Council says that it aims to progressively eliminate all free on-street parking within the canals and in areas where commuters park their cars all day.

It also wants to examine repurposing private car parking lots, it says.

James Geoghegan, a Fine Gael councillor, says the broad thrust that the polluter pays is a good one. There is also an equity question to consider, he said, as typically, people who have more money might be more able to afford newer cars that emit less.

“There would be a regressive component to that, so you’d have to find a way of offsetting that.”

Michael Pidgeon, the Green Party councillor, says that even if those who have bigger, more polluting cars simply pay the charge and still drive their cars around, the positive is that the city has raised money for itself.

“If the project fails and simply raises a lot of money that we can spend on projects to make the city better then it’s only a partial failure,” he says.

The Space Question

Vehicle size is just as big an issue for the city as emissions, Pidgeon, a Green Party councillor, who also chairs the council’s climate and environment committee.

Cars are getting bigger, meaning they take up more street space, do more damage to footpaths when drivers park them there, and pose a greater danger to pedestrians and cyclists.

If the parking charges are linked just to emissions, says Pidgeon, then streets may end up stuffed with electric cars, causing all the same problems as petrol and diesel ones, apart from pollution.

“That comes with extra costs for everyone else, so it should certainly come with extra costs to the person doing it,” he said.

Hanney, the transport planner, says that if the council is going to change how it does parking charges, then those charges should be separated into size and emissions-based fees.

That would reflect the dual issues that big polluting cars create for the city, he said. In general, the cost of parking is way undervalued, said Hanney.

Claudia Dalby is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. She's especially interested in stories about the southside, transport, and kids in the city. Get in touch at claudia@dublininquirer.com.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *