COUNCIL chiefs need to do more to encourage people into park and ride facilities in Weymouth and Dorchester which are underused, a report says.
Dorset County Council says park and ride can shift thousands of cars off the road but not enough people seem to be using its sites particularly at Weymouth which is running at a loss.
Efforts should also be made to get more Dorchester workers to park out of town, but a bigger site should be investigated.
Reviewing parking arrangements at County Hall, linking up with big employers like Dorset County Hospital, talking with traders' groups to tempt more workers and shoppers, and removing free parking in towns are measures to be considered by DCC to boost usage.
Although the 1,159-capacity Weymouth hub at Mount Pleasant is becoming more popular since it opened in 2011, it rakes in about £100,000 a year but costs £278,000 a year to run. Less than 100 cars a day use it except in high summer and big events.
The Dorchester facility at the football club for 219 vehicles is about 77 per cent occupied although used more on market days. It costs £108,000 to run of which £73,000 comes from DCC and remainder from West Dorset District Council. No income data is available.
Director for Environment and the Economy Mike Harries says in a report to today's (Thursday) Environment Overview Committee that park and ride could remove 'thousands of miles of commuter travel' along the A354 and around Dorchester improving air quality and reducing carbon emissions.
It is a key element in reducing Dorchester commuter parking including at County Hall where the majority of cars park for most of the day.
He said charges may need to be bumped up if any changes are made, and warned that West Dorset District Council, which provides free parking for staff, is considering the level of financial support as the park and ride buses do not serve its new HQ.
Mr Harries adds: “Use of the county council's P&R operations remains far below a level that will enable costs to be met.
“However, the Weymouth operation is continuing to grow and can accommodate substantially greater patronage within its existing capacity, subject to a reduction in town-centre parking.
“The Dorchester operation is capacity constrained and mainly limited to commuter use, although we are aware of developers seeking to provide an alternative, larger site.
“Developing an improved P&R service alone will not be sufficient to generate significant additional usage.
“Further support will be required, i.e town-centre parking restrictions, including the removal of existing free parking.”
Potential measures to encourage park and ride use: *Linking with big employers to encourage greater use
*Review parking system at County Hall and all DCC sites to encourage use of town sites and remove incentive to park on campus
*Promote park and ride as workers car park
*Investigate P&R site south of A35 at Dorchester
*Work with councils in Weymouth and Dorchester to align P&R with town centre parking strategies
TRANSPORT spokesman for Weymouth and Portland Borough Council Cllr Christine James said it was vital DCC officers spoke to local councillors about the issues rather than spouting 'hot air', particularly as the borough has just completed a major parking strategy.
She said: “It has been known for a while that park and ride is underused. It's a good concept but people want the convenience of parking in the centre.
“Officers need to be speaking to elected members about this. The council has tried to talk to county about improving park and ride but they didn't want to know.”
She added: “What is concerning is there are park and ride buses running empty all day and there are parts of Weymouth which no longer have a bus service so maybe they could re-route them to serve communities.”
Owner of Dream On tea rooms on Weymouth seafront Fred Williams said: “What infuriates me is that the park and ride is always empty. If we can get that filled up it would alleviate parking problems in Weymouth. It would solve a lot more of the problems than a decrease in parking charges.”