GOVERNMENTS, from Stormont to Westminster, are driven to bring in cash by the car-load, because it wouldn’t do to take it from the wealthy (oh perish the thought) and drivers are not just suitably numerous, but an easy and, these days, only barely moving, target.
Even were public transport everything it ought to be, it would be a truly Herculean task to rob the automotive Hydra of its multitudinous heads, but public transport ISN’T everything it ought to be and so the motoring public can be even more certain to soak up punishment rather than be bereft of its cars.
An incongruously expensive thing is the ‘freedom’ of the road. We pay ever escalating tax for highways and byways, many of which are barely fit to drive on, and fear we’ve mistakenly filled up on aviation fuel when we see the soaraway price at the pump, this on top of maintenance costs, ‘MoT’ fees, insurance (don’t get me started) and the price of the car in the first place, but, never ones to miss a trick, the same powers-that-be who dream of tolls on every road, are widening the net with which they snare us even while at rest – a net woven tight with parking fees and parking fines.
The motorist, however, is not the only fish in a flap thanks to this indiscriminate trawl; for beleaguered town centre traders, Stormont Minister Danny Kennedy’s move to increase parking fines and introduce fees, where once there were none, may be a ticket to ride off into the sunset to the haunting strain of suitably melancholic music, with only the odd illegally parked tumbleweed to impede their progress.
The public is constantly being encouraged, nay, urged - implored, even - to support local traders, and now those inclined to answer this tug at their heartstrings, and locally loosen their purse-strings, are told they must likely pay for the privilege if they’re disinclined to overtax their hamstrings.
It doesn’t matter that perhaps people should be more willing to walk farther than the reach of a traffic warden’s arm; it matters only that if they’re not into exERcise, failure to exORcise the spectre of parking charges and hefty fines will likely scare off trade.
Mr. Kennedy says such are the financial pressures on his department that he has no choice but to introduce these parking measures, but he can manage to scrape up the necessary millions for the A8 Belfast to Larne Road.
Now I’m sure the A8 project will bring with it some benefits, to some people, but how many others are going to be out of pocket thanks to these widespread charges? How many traders will see business fall off still further while this no doubt worthwhile, but arguably far from vital, scheme forges ahead?
Here again we’re treated to the same demonstration of misplaced priorities that brought us expensive artwork for a hospital foyer when hospital beds were in order of rarity set to overtake a Da Vinci original – misplaced priorities that feed a fixation with keeping up appearances, typified far and wide, perhaps, by improvement works UNDENIABLY worthy as icing on the cake, but a poor substitute for absent filling, a triumph of style over substance, form over function, that may one day, in tandem with measures such as Mr. Kennedy’s parking charges, assure us, at least, if our slide towards an economically dystopian future is not arrested, of some of the best looking ghost towns around.