Are we mad at cars?
No, not in the least. But there is a capacity limit which if we exceed
- traffic comes to a halt,
- the city centre gets jam-packed,
- there are traffic jams and
- the City Centre Bridge becomes difficult to cross.
And everyone feels, sees and experiences that Szeged has been utilising its traffic capacities to the maximum for a while. Waiting in the traffic jam (in Újszeged) is always the order of the day. However, there is no denying that ever since free parking was made part of the set of coronavirus combat measures
- far more people have been using their cars,
- parking lots that used to be paying lots have become taken far sooner,
- we have parked our cars in the same place for much longer – as it is free.
It is these howevers and the potential responses to them that Imre Csüllög, representing the Hungarian Cyclists’ Club, Zoltán Majó-Petri, Managing Director of Szeged Transport Ltd. (Szegedi Közlekedési Kft.), and traffic engineer Tibor Vincze discussed in the framework of the SASMob project, the event hosted by Mátyás Szerdahelyi.
The discussion named “The vehicle situation – where we are with free parking” started from the basics: why we have to pay for parking at all. We all know the answer, which we still tend to forget: very simply, what many want to use must somehow be regulated.
– Driving has external environmental impacts that drivers do not pay for. Parking fees work as an incentive: when you plan your daily route in the morning, you should consider whether the car is a must. Parking fees further incentivise people to use pay parking lots for the shortest possible time – said Tibor Vincze, who also noted that paying for parking had begun in Szeged in the eighties: in Széchenyi Square (the city’s main square) and in and around Mars Square (the central intercity bus station) parking fees had to be paid to parking wardens. At that time, the “lot money” was HUF 20. The “new” parking zone system is already twenty-five years old. And it is a speciality of Szeged that the revenues from parking are reinvested by the city in local community transport.
Zoltán Majó-Petri also said if everyone parked in Szeged’s inner – green and yellow – zones in accordance with regulations, a total of four thousand cars could be squeezed into the parking lots of these two areas. However, far more drivers want to stop in the city centre. In the green zone, the average parking time is forty-two minutes on a normal weekday. It is said that, ideally, this time should be below one hour: anomalies in traffic and parking begin in the city centre if this time exceeds this one-hour threshold.
Why is there a need for parking fees and why is it “difficult” now that parking is free?
Many citizens of Szeged already have personal experience about this: every time there is an open-air theatre performance, it proves really hard to find a parking lot as parking is free and everyone tries hard to park as close to Dóm Square, the theatre performance site, as possible. People will drive around the square several times to be as near as they can, and many drive there long before the performance to ensure they get a place for their car.
Through the eyes of traffic experts, the coronavirus pandemic and the introduction of free parking proved a good opportunity to clearly see that, without parking fees, not only Szeged but the centres of all cities in Hungary and the capital will fail.
– Now the city centre is full, not only in Szeged but also, for example, in Debrecen, though a lot of people work in home office, and traffic around the clinics is not as heavy as it used to be before the pandemic. If we also had that additional traffic, we could not even get into the city centre at around nine o’clock in the morning – said Zoltán Majó-Petri.
Imre Csüllög commented that no one likes to pay and whatever is free is considered good – yet it surprises him that many become resentful at being unable to find a parking place. Tibor Vincze also thought that this was the “key to badness”: there is less mobility in the city, yet it takes longer to find a parking lot.
- Are community transport vehicles safe from the point of view of the virus?
- Is the free parking measure really a Hungarian speciality?
- How do mobility patterns change during the pandemic?
- Does it make sense to strengthen community transport at this time?