COLLEEN SMITH: I'm paying when people visit
I HAD a day off today. So I dropped my son at school first thing, and decided I had time for a quick stroll along the seafront for a breath of fresh air before sitting down at the computer to write this column.
Except I couldn't (go for a walk, that is). And why not, I hear you ask? It was the bloomin' parking meters. I realised that I didn't have any change.
Nobody with children between the ages of 11 and 16 ever has any change. It's a law. Children at that age seem to need endless amounts of small change on a daily basis.
They are old enough to go on buses and join clubs and need money for food but they're not old enough to be trusted with bigger denominations of money, because banknotes have a way of mysteriously disappearing.
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So there I was, on a practically empty seafront in the middle of winter, and I couldn't park my car and get out and go for a quick 10 minute stroll. It actually felt like an infringement of my civil liberty as a citizen of Torquay.
The seafront looked desolate and empty and sad without a single car parked along the front on either side.
I get that times are hard and the council sees parking as a cash cow to fill its empty coffers.
In the summer when the place is teeming with visitors, I can see that the parking meters are a way to recoup some of the expense of running a holiday resort.
But in the middle of winter, how is it acceptable to charge local people to park on an empty seafront?
Now I hear that the council is looking to close the Union Lane multi-storey in Torquay town centre at 7pm.
The council says that nobody uses that car park at night and it's not worth the staffing costs.
First of all, that's rubbish! All the Gala bingo playing ladies are understandably up in arms. The Temperance Street bingo hall is open seven nights a week and the evening session doesn't even start until 6.45pm.
But more importantly, it just proves that the council no longer sees parking as a public service.
Surely that car park rakes in a huge income for the council during the day, which more than pays the wages of the staff needed to man it. Daytime profits for the council to use to offset the slightly less profitable times?
How many staff does it take to keep a pay-and-display car park open?
Does this mean that Torbay car parks will only stay open during the hours when they are making money, but close when they are not?
Is there no duty of care for the people who need that town centre car park in the evenings, like the bingo players, for example?
At the moment it costs £8 for anything over five hours to park in the long stay car parks. It's ridiculous.
I was just reading an article about New York's new style 'Muni' parking meters. I couldn't believe it when I looked at the photograph and saw that the charge (this was in November) was 25 cents for 15 minutes. That's about 63p.
Five hours in New York city would cost you just over £3 compared to our £8. And I bet Manhattan doesn't shut down at 7pm in the evening.
Seriously. It's cheaper to park in the Big Apple than in Torbay. And not just a bit cheaper. No wonder tourists leave Torbay in shock.
One Yorkshire visitor commented on the Herald Express website on his return home he had been for a trip to picturesque Holmefirth, where Last of the Summer Wine is filmed, and parking there costs just 60p for three hours. That sounds about right to me.
Now the first phase of a major review of parking in the Bay has been unveiled — but having looked at the initial details, it sounds more like fiddling while Rome burns than a 'major review' to me.
First of all, I was gobsmacked when one of the proposals read: "Free parking on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Years Day both on and off street."
What? I'm sorry? Do we currently pay meter wardens to work on Christmas Day? What a merry Christmas present that ticket would be.
The review also suggests residents' monthly permits, which can only be used in one specific car park, for £45.
That is still way too much. Better I suppose than the hundreds of pounds a month it would cost at the moment to park every day for a month at the full cost of £8 a day.
Another suggestion is for a residents' only permit which can only be used between 3pm and 10am for selected car parks. And the cost for that is even more at £50. Per month! That's £600 a year. It's insane.
The reason that Torquay town centre is now left with little more than a few charity shops and the cheaper High Street stores is that the town is becoming a place for those who can't afford to go some place better.
I know that sounds mean. And I feel mean writing it. Because Torquay is my home town and I desperately want to see it thriving again.
Local people should not be paying this extra car parking tax. I already have to pay £30 for a parking permit to park outside my own house.
And I have to pay another £100 a year to buy scratch-off parking tickets so that friends and workmen can visit and park in the empty road outside.
That means I can have a maximum of one visitor every three days in the year. It's hardly a social whirl is it?
You can see why I'm fed up with Torbay Council and its ridiculous parking charges. It's not just when I need to leave the house that I have to pay — it's even when I stay at home and people come to visit.