Hospital dilemma shows muddled thinking

I’ve been lax about blogging recently as between the launch of my new book, Blood, Iron and Gold, and working hard on my next one, Engines of War, and a whole host of other media work and journalism, time has been short. Which is a shame since there’s been no shortage of issues.

But I could not resist a quick few thoughts about Labour’s promise to abolish car parking charges for in patients and their visitors in hospital. First, of course, it will be difficult to carry out this promise since many hospitals built under PFI schemes have incorporated that income into the contracts and therefore trusts may find that they have to provide hefty sums to buy themselves out of the deal.

More important, though, is the lack of coherent thinking behind this. Car parking not only has a real cost – the provision of space in often expensive areas – but acts as a deterrent to people driving. If many people can drive to hospitals free – and what a hassle it will be checking up on each one – then space will fill up.  Moreover,  charges encourage people to think twice before jumping in their cars and will make more people use public transport.

For neoliberals, free car parking is a distortion of the market which favours one mode as against others, for environmentalists it is a short sighted policy which yet again shows that Labour has no real understanding of the damage caused by transport. It is a cheap election gimmick – would it not have been better for the money to have been spent on improving public transport access to hospitals? And indeed, not building them on inaccessible sites in the first place.

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