Free parking before Christmas would 'allow better social distancing'

The councils were asked to cut parking fees over Christmas in order to crank the main roads – and to stop groups of drivers at ticket machines.

The AA believes free parking, starting December 14, would help revitalize “beleaguered shops and street vendors” amid the surge in online transactions due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It was also warned that in-store social distancing measures “often fall” as shoppers gather around ticket machines to pay their parking fees.

While many municipalities are encouraging drivers to make payments through mobile apps, some drivers are put off by additional fees and difficulties in using the technology.

AA President Edmund King said, “In the past, councils and malls have used free parking at Christmas to draw customers to high streets and malls.

“The AA believes that opening times and free parking should be extended more than ever.

“With fewer shoppers and some avoiding public transport, opening free parking spaces would also enable better social distancing, rather than making ticket machines the Achilles’ heel of attempts by stores, councils and malls managers to evacuate and protect visitors.

“This was made worse by the fact that ticket machines became more and more complicated, requiring vehicle license plates and credit card information. In addition, queuing is often a problem, as ticket machines are often located where shoppers are squeezed at park entrances or near toilets.

“Let’s hope that free parking can banish the Scrooge mentality and bring joy to shopkeepers.”

David Renard, traffic spokesman for the Local Government Association, told PA: “The councils continue to work day and night to support communities during the Covid-19 crisis and have been flexible in responding to the changing demand for parking.

“With the main streets and city centers reopening for the festive period, the demand for parking spaces will return to normal in many places.

“There is no single solution. As before the pandemic, councils will be charging fees to accommodate local conditions, including helping major streets and businesses in the city center.

“The councils will also consider capacity and social distancing issues in their local parking lots when people visit city centers.”

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