A recent study used figures from the Civil Aviation Authority, airport booking sites and Google search data to analyse UK airport parking demand, Kelly Edwards reports.
Commissioned by UK travel insurance provider Staysure, the study found a wide variance across the country. The data showed that only a small minority of travellers from Heathrow look for airport parking per year - just 0.83% - 647,000 out of 78 million. At the other end of the scale, the results for Bristol airport showed 10% of flyers looking for parking - 582,691 of 5,826,916 a year.
So what’s behind this substantial variation?
There are a number of issues to consider when taking a more detailed look at the airports - including changes and differences in local social and economic infrastructure. When an airport has an exceptionally high level of demand for airport parking, this is an environmental concern which needs to be addressed.
In comparison to the rest of the UK, London has much lower levels of car ownership. With the Congestion Zone, few and expensive car parking spaces and excellent public transport services such as the London Underground and night buses, there is no need to own a car.
Only London has a transport authority which links up suburban, underground and overground trains and also buses.
In fact, fewer young people in London have the incentive to drive a car and so they learn to drive at an older age when compared to the rest of the country - many only needing to learn to drive if they move out of London. Tourists visiting London will also not need to hire a car to get around.
In addition, the Mayor of London aims to further reduce cars in the city and increase all journeys in London made by public transport from the current 64% to 80% of journeys by 2041. Including car journeys to London airports, that would be 3 million fewer car journeys per day.
Electric car schemes are also gaining popularity with car hire schemes for journeys to and from London airports. Gatwick airport is also making an effort to use electric vehicles for the operation of the airport.
However, if the London mayor’s goal is to be met, more needs to be done - the public transport links are not good enough.
Despite major investment to all of the rail and coach links to London airports, concerning reports suggest that passengers from London airports between 2012-2016 were more likely to travel to the airport by car than they were seven years ago - this is because cabs are within those figures - which are more popular in a city like London than driving your own car.
The exception was Stansted and this was said to be due to recently improved new coach connections.
Passengers will be reluctant to use public transport if they see it as an added hassle or unreliable. Therefore potential improvements include an extension of Oyster or contactless payment for rail tickets and contactless payment on buses outside London.
Heathrow and Gatwick airports benefit from an Oyster card reader, but not Stansted where the number of travellers fined for using their Oyster card by mistake had increased from around zero to 16,000 in just two years.
The opening of Crossrail could also further decrease the number of travellers using a car to get to Heathrow and therefore search for airport parking.
Crossrail trains from Liverpool Street or Canary Wharf to Heathrow Terminal 5 will take under 50 minutes. This is an improvement on the London Underground and the expensive Heathrow Express.
Despite the highest volume of passengers, it makes sense that London has fewer people looking for a car parking space at Heathrow - but there are still improvements to be made to public transport to further discourage the increasing use of cars and taxis.
Airports outside London
Airports outside London have a dire shortage of public transport links and with cuts in local budgets, bus services outside London are being stopped or abandoned altogether.
In the last ten years 134 million miles of bus routes have been lost outside London.
Skelmersdale is a typical example of a northern town which is located less than half an hour from Liverpool by car, but it takes two hours by bus and train as the service is slow and the timetables are not integrated.
Bristol airport has people driving from as far as South Wales and Dorset. The Staysure study data showed that one in 10 flyers looking at Bristol airport are searching for parking. This was the highest number of flyers looking to park their car at the airport when compared to the other UK airports.
There are reports of travellers leaving their cars in the surrounding residential and country lanes around Bristol airport, rather than pay the fees or compete with other passengers at the Bristol airport car parks. One field near the village of Felton filled up with as many as 500 cars in August last year.
Lulsgate and other villages near Bristol airport also have a problem with unauthorised car parks, luring airport travellers with much cheaper rates than the airport car parks.
Campaigners against the Bristol airport expansion into the greenbelt feel that the expansion is not to satisfy a higher demand for more flights, but instead purely based on attempts to gain more parking profits. Rather than expand the airport for flights, they have a need to expand the parking operation.
Campaigners argue that roads around Bristol airport on the A38 are already congested and the expansion will simply add to the gridlock.
Although Bristol airport doesn’t have a rail link, the Bristol Airport Flyer offers fast bus services to both Bristol and Weston-super-Mare to and from the terminal at all times of day and night.
Perhaps more needs to be done to encourage travellers to use it rather than park their car in an unauthorized location.
Uber has led to a decrease in those seeking airport parking for the convenience of having an Uber driver drop you off right by the terminal doors for an inexpensive fare. Uber has been popular in London for a few years now and other UK areas are catching up. In Wales there is a competitor to Uber ‘Ola’ so this is a market that will continue to take over.
Levels of demand for airport parking need to be closely monitored and money invested on public transport provision.
If all airports can decrease the number of flyers driving themselves to and from the airport, the car park land could also be put to better use - perhaps free drop off areas for Uber cabs and car shares or electric car park charge sites - and in doing so the threat of taking up more green belt land would be avoided.
For further detail visit the Staysure website here.