Friday, April 13, 2007

Lies, Damned Lies...

Surveys are the lifeblood of the regional press, particularly if they cast a poor light on a town or city in the area.

I was contacted by the Northern Echo last night about a "survey" from Direct Line, which I was told showed that Darlington is the eighth most expensive place to park one's car in the country, at an eye-watering £3 for 2 hours.

So where in Darlington does one pay £3 for 2 hours? In most of our off-street car parks within the ring road it's £1.60 for 3 hours. I've just come off the phone from the press office at Direct Line who claim that their release shows us as the 19th most expensive place not the 8th, and from the story now on the Echo's website this morning, it looks like the press release at least is being properly quoted. Direct Line also say that their survey takes into account private as well as municipal car parks, and also factors in the number of car parking spaces for each charge. They say they'll get back to me with the figures to prove this. I'll await that email with interest.

I get very cross about this kind of sloppy story because at a stroke it undermines what the Council and the traders are trying to achieve to boost trade coming into town, at least as far as car parking is concerned. Media types in London may not be bothered with the minutiae of charges "out in the sticks" but to those of us who have to deal with the consequences of this kind of story, it matters very much indeed.


After ringing Direct Line's press office for "a little chat" I received the following email form Suzie Barrett

Hi Nick,
The information on car parks is collated on the basis of area and not local authority/ council. The researchers initially contacted the local authority in each area to determine the number of car parks by geographical area and then checked these against a map.
15 car parks in Darlington were contacted in August 2006 (including: Park Lane Station, Upper Archer St, Park-place East, Park-place West, Garden Street, Kendrew Street West, Kendrew Street East, Winston Street, Commercial Street West, Commercial Street East, Beaumont Street East, Beaumont Street North, Beaumont Street West, Abbots Yard and Town Hall)
If you would like more detail on how the weighted average price was calculated then please let me know - and I will speak again with the researchers.
I hope this helps you with your query, Many thanks, Suzie

I then replied as follows;

Thanks Suzie.
These are my figures for these car parks at the time of your survey;
Abbotts Yard: £1 for first hour then £1.50 each hour thereafter (small car park in centre of town).
Winston St, Commercial St W & E, Beaumont St E, N & W, Town Hall: £0.80 hour (majority of our spaces).
Upper Archer St, Park Place E & W, Garden St, Kendrew St E & W: £3 a day (so equates to £0.30 hour).
Railway Station (only one not in Council control) we think was £9 a day, although may have been less. Equates to £0.90/hour.
In the light of this, I still cannot understand how Darlington car parks can be said to average £3 for 2 hours, unless your researchers assumed that people would park for two hours at the station and then leave after paying for ten! In reality, with different pricing structures available around the town, people park in the car park which best meets their needs as far as cost is concerned.
I would still be interested in the weighting from your researchers, in the light of the above. The number of spaces at the station is still dwarfed by the Council's short and long stay car parks.

I'm still waiting for a reply...


miketually said...

It's amazing how many inaccuracies you can spot in newspaper articles if you know something about the story. A mountain biking story got someone's surname wrong right through the article recently; that's pretty basic stuff.

It makes you doubt everything else you read.

Darlington Councillor said...

Except on here, of course... :)

mike barker said...

It's on the radio too. Traders in the town don't need the local radio station telling everyone Darlington "is in the 20 most expensive towns in the country for shoppers to park in."

Aeres said...

It infuriates me in general to see surveys in general appear in newspapers. It's such lazy journalism and invariably you'll find that they're sponsored by some firm that's trying to flog their product.

Norwich Union helpfully inform us that people don't have enough life assurance. Really???

Kelloggs tell us the shocking news that some people are daring not to eat breakfast which means they can't concentrate properly. You don't say???

Maybe a lesson for Mike Barker? Get the Echo on the phone and tell them you've found that people aren't eating enough homity pie and as a result their brains are shrinking. You'll have them queueing out of the door! :-)

I think the car parking charges are reasonable but really wish they'd give change. Every other vending machine I know gives out change apart from these - surely there's no good reason apart from just taking the extra money from the punters? Maybe I'm missing something - could anybody enlighten me? I bet a fortune gets raked in from people who pay a quid rather than 80p.

Darlington Councillor said...

Regarding change from machines - in fact this is very unusual in Pay and Display car parks. Machines which give change tend to be in 'pay-on-exit' car parks, like the Crown Street car park.

Converting car parks from surface car parks to pay-on-exit would be an expensive business (both in terms of the new machines and barriers etc. but also reduced spaces owing to the layout required). Most of the surface car parks in Darlington don't lend themselves to this format. Instead, the Council has committed that when car parks are redeveloped (for example Commercial Street imminently) they will be rebuilt as pay-on-exit car parks with machines which give change.

In ther meantime the Council has listened to traders who wanted shoppers to dwell longer in the town centre by making the 3rd hour free in short stay car parks (£1.60 for up to 3 rather than 2 hours).

Anonymous said...

There is an easy way around the change issue - phone parking, it does work.

Although I don't regularly go into the town centre I had occasion to use the Beaumont Street car park in the week. I was pleased to see it offered the phone parking which I have got into the daily habit of using since the new phone-parking Railway car park opened up at Garbutt Square last month.

What can I say though - the beaumont street experience was, in a word, rubbish. The phone parking at the station is just miles better and three times quicker to use. The two just simply don't compare. Has the council bought the cheap and cheerful solution once again? If so can we scrap it and have a bit more of whatever GNER are doing please!

Ive just checked my phone and here are the numbers to try Beaumont St - 0870 066 2501 and GNER
0113 809 0100 (a Leeds number mark you - so nothing like so expensive to call)