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Could a tax on office parking transform public transport in Sheffield?

In Nottingham, a charge levied on employers for each workplace parking space has funded a huge extension to the city’s tram network.

Nottingham Citadis by chrisw at 2015 08 02 14 09 26

Nottingham has part-funded an extension to its tram network with the proceeds from its own WPL.

Chris J Wood on Wikimedia Commons.

Introducing a Workplace Parking Levy could raise millions to transform public transport in Sheffield – that’s the claim by the local Green Party, who have called on the council to back the idea.

A Workplace Parking Levy, or WPL, would be a mandatory charge levied on any employer in the city with more than a set minimum number of parking spaces for their employees.

The revenue would then be ringfenced to spend on public transport improvements, such as better bus stops, new walking and cycling infrastructure, or even entire new tram routes.

The annual charge for each parking space on-site would be met by the company, but they could choose to pass this on to the employee who uses the space if they wish.

Councillor Christine Gilligan Kubo, who took former council leader Bob Johnson’s Hillsborough seat for the Green Party in May last year, is supportive of the idea.

“As the detrimental effects of climate change become increasingly apparent, one of the main benefits of a WPL is to encourage people not to use their cars to come into work,” she told Now Then. “That would be very beneficial in many ways – not least because one of the things we are suffering from is cuts to bus services.”

“The reason bus services are getting cut is because there aren’t enough passengers. By putting incentives to encourage people not to use their cars – by removing free parking spaces – it might improve bus services.”

Gilligan Kubo also said the scheme would “feed in some much-needed revenue, so that we can improve our transport services across the city, including buses and trams.”

Calls for better public transport and active travel infrastructure come as the UK seemingly falls out of love with the car, with rates of ownership falling two years in a row for the first time in a century.

Labour-run Nottingham has led the way on the policy, introducing a levy on all employers in the city with eleven or more employee parking spaces back in 2012.

The idea is that a WPL acts as both stick and carrot to encourage a shift to more sustainable forms of transport, with the charge both disincentivising driving while also funding public transport improvements.

In Nottingham employers currently pay the council £428 a year for each additional parking space, with eight out of ten choosing to pass this on to the worker who uses the space.

In the ten years since the scheme’s introduction, the east Midlands city has raised over £90m for transport improvements, which part-funded the city’s tram network doubling in size.

Inspired by Nottingham’s example, the Scottish Government have recently passed legislation allowing councils the option to introduce their own WPLs, which both Glasgow and Edinburgh are considering.

Now campaigners are calling on Sheffield – whose tram network has not expanded since it opened in 1994 – to launch a similar scheme.

In a letter to Labour councillors Mazher Iqbal and Julie Grocutt, the Greens say a WPL could fund “improved public transport and better facilities and infrastructure for walkers and cyclists.”

“Having a new funding source to support transport initiatives eases pressure on public funds, and frees up more funding for things like adult social care and children’s services which are constantly under threat of cuts,” says the letter.

The Green Party’s petition comes after enormous cuts to bus services in South Yorkshire were postponed due to a last-minute reprieve from central government.

Tina and Tram 375x500

Hillsborough councillor Christine Gilligan Kubo said a WPL could "improve transport services across the city."

Sheffield Green Party.

But public transport campaigners fear that cuts to services will merely be pushed back a few months unless new sources of funding are identified and transport is taken back under public control.

As well as disincentivising rush hour traffic, the money raised from a WPL could cover some of the costs of moving to a ‘franchising’ model for South Yorkshire’s buses.

But Chris Saltmarsh, a Sheffield-based Labour Party activist and founder of Labour for a Green New Deal, told Now Then that a WPL isn’t the right solution to the city’s transport problems.

“Sheffield urgently needs investment in our public transport and cycling infrastructure but it would be wrong to introduce a tax on workers during this cost-of-living crisis,” he said (the Greens point out it would take around two years to introduce a WPL).

“The scale of funding required to provide viable alternatives is much greater than what would be raised by a Workplace Parking Levy.”

He continued: “Rather than punishing public sector employees, the council should do more to demand the government gives local authorities the powers and resources to bring buses and trams into public ownership, expand routes and slash fares.”

by Sam Gregory (he/him)

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