29 July 2010

The cost of parking

Stagecoach recently won a legal battle with the Department for Transport (DfT) over when its 'cap and collar' payments - worth around £70 million - for its South West Trains (SWT) company should kick in. It argued that subtle alterations made to its £1.2 billion contract to operate the SWT franchise for a decade, permitted it to receive revenue support from the DfT before February 2011.

The uninitiated might be wondering why one of the world's most successful transport groups requires £70 million in revenue support.

To protect financial shortfalls during recessions, each train operating company (TOC) agrees with the DfT a minimum and maximum level of revenue it will earn. Should this drop below the minimum, the DfT steps in with an effective hand-out and should it exceed the maximum, the DfT takes a share. Obviously, being in a recession, TOCs have been badly hit and many have required the financial assistance of the DfT.

Stagecoach, however, was not eligible for revenue protection until February 2011, or so the DfT thought when it drew up the SWT contract a number of years ago. Noting this was worth in the region of £70 million, Stagecoach instructed its lawyers to seek arbitration because some re-wording in the SWT contract had taken place and it believed it was entitled to money before the buffer (sorry!) period was over.

With egg firmly on the face of the DfT, Stagecoach won and SWT is in the process of receiving around £70 million of tax payer's money to ensure it registers a profit.

What Stagecoach weren't as vociferous about was a separate issue that they took to arbitration: that of revenue generated from car parking fees at its station, worth in the region of £8 million a year. The railway arbitration board ruled in the DfT's favour on this occasion; that this revenue should be taken into account before further revenue support is made.

Anyone who's ever had to park at a railway station - particularly one that is on a direct line to London - will know how much you can be stung for. With SWT being the largest TOC, one would reason that it has the most car parking spaces available and so will generate the most revenue. Logically, therefore, other TOCs probably won't earn £8 million a year this way, but I suspect some won't be far off.

M'colleague and I have travelled from Peterborough on countless occasions as it's kind of the south-west gateway to the LEYTR area and we find transport links to the station reasonable from our respective locations in Lincolnshire. What we find less than reasonable is that to park your car at Peterborough railway station - maintained by East Coast (to whom the money goes) costs £12 per week day. Making a comparison, two days' parking at Peterborough station is as much as a weekly Stagecoach 'Megarider+' ticket covering its entire Cambridgeshire operation; it's £9 more than a weekly ticket on Delaine Buses in from Bourne and the same for First's excel X1 from Norwich!

Like with most stations, reductions are available for season ticket holders, but using Peterborough as an example, it's cheaper to park your car in one of the suburbs close to the town centre and hail a taxi!

Neither of us knew just how profitable this was for TOCs. Stagecoach's effective loss of £8 million really opened our eyes!


Anonymous said...

National Rail website's station facilities page usually includes prices for parking at stations. A quick comparison of a few stations finds that Peterborough does seem to have one of the highest daily tariffs for parking in the country!

Stuart said...

For too long, TOCs have seen parking charges as easy ways of raising cash. Surely, if this trend continues, it will become counter-productive and people will stay in their cars and drive the whole distance.