Tameside MBC pauses controversial parking scheme in Ashton-under-Lyne
After a miserable Christmas for Ashton’s shopkeepers, a controversial parking scheme has been paused by Tameside MBC. From the 07 January 2019 at 2pm, the smartphone and text message based RingGo service was suspended. It has been criticised for alienating, mainly elderly drivers, who prefer to pay for their parking by cash.
Since its introduction on the 01 November 2018, some drivers had been befuddled by the mobile app. Others have decried the lack of on-street vending machine, should s/he wish to pay by cash. Another criticism has been the cut in free on-street parking from 60 minutes to 30 minutes.
With the two factors, shopkeepers have noticed a massive drop in their takings. Up to 40% in some cases – on a par of with average losses in Stalybridge during Summer 2018’s closure of Stamford Street from Wakefield Road to Portland Place.
In the last two months, the Bargain Cave collectibles shop had a closing down sale. On Penny Meadow, also covered by RingGo, the then newly opened Ashton Groceries shop was only open for a month. Its opening coincided with RingGo’s arrival.
The run-up to Christmas and Yuletide was an inglorious one for Tameside’s administrative capital with reduced footfall. Even the Christmas spirit of Bailey’s hardware stall wasn’t enough to convince some customers. Some may argue that Ashton’s low key festive celebrations didn’t help either.
First to criticise the measures at local government level was Stalybridge South Conservative councillor Liam Billington. He stressed the lack of alternative payment forms – on-street vending machines in particular. Shortly afterwards, local social media pages were inundated with complaints about RingGo and the odd “Ashton is dead…” comment.
In the last month, it attracted the attention of Ashton-under-Lyne MP Angela Rayner. A response to one of her constituents echoed the Stalybridge South councillor’s views. She also liked the lower parking rates.
Several Facebook and Twitter posts later, Tameside MBC leader Brenda Warrington made the announcement that Tameside’s motorists and shopkeepers wanted to hear. The suspension of the RingGo scheme. As things stand, the RingGo scheme has been paused pending a review. If the review suggests retaining mobile/smartphone payment options, there could be scope for cash based alternatives. Or they could consider reverting to cash only payment points.
Why has the RingGo system been unpopular?
There may be two reasons: one is its reliance on smartphones and mobile phones. If you are parking and loading the RingGo app for the first time, that is precious minutes taken away from your half hour’s free parking. Secondly, though electronic payments aren’t going to go away, cash is still king in some respects. More stallholders are taking card payments but new traders may be happier to take cash to begin with.
With the first reason, there was little notice of the changes other than street signs. If flyers were seen by all 210,000 or so Tameside residents, the app could have been installed at home. Or via the free WiFi in any of Tameside’s libraries. Fewer people read local newspapers in dead tree form, and even fewer people may be inclined to go to the Public Notices section of the Tameside Reporter. If RingGo users had a similar sort of induction to library users (for the Open+ scheme), things may have been different. Even so, its success had been undermined by the lack of cash payment facilities.
Ashton has plenty of off-street parking options. Why the fuss?
If you have reduced mobility issues or wish to nip to Thyme To Eat for a bacon butty, on-street parking is important. Additional time may be needed to assemble and disassemble a wheelchair or mobility scooter which eats up your free parking time. Parcel collection is time sensitive too and cold bacon butties aren’t a good fit for getting on with your colleagues.
Though there is limited off-street parking off Stamford Street (between Wellington Street and Wood Street and off Fleet Street), other options are a fair walking distance away. The Arcades Shopping Centre car park is fine for the said precinct; the car park on Gas Street is also good for the swimming baths.
Why was Stamford Street Central in the spotlight?
Though other streets were covered by RingGo, Stamford Street Central attracted the most attention. The street has an emotional connection with Ashtonians: before Ashton’s first precinct opened in 1967, it was Ashton’s main shopping street. The Earl of Stamford modelled it on London’s Oxford Street.
Till the 1970s and 1980s, it was noted for its department stores with Littlewoods, F.W. Woolworth and Burton having stores between St. Michael’s Square and Chester Square. Between Cavendish Street and Oldham Road was the iconic Arcadia store – Ashton-under-Lyne Cooperative Society’s flagship store. Much of the damage was done in 1971 when the Park Parade bypass opened.
Why was Ashton-under-Lyne chosen ahead of the other eight towns?
Being the borough’s main shopping centre, it may have been assumed that the effects wouldn’t have been as greatly felt there compared with (for example) Stalybridge. Had it been a success, RingGo could have been rolled out to Hyde, Stalybridge, Denton, and Droylsden. Ashton, unlike Tameside’s other town centres, has a number of private sector parking spaces in addition to Tameside MBC’s provision.
Why the focus on parking and drivers? Some Tamesiders use buses and are hard done by through fare increases and service cuts.
Neither Tameside MBC nor Transport for Greater Manchester are able to run their own bus services. If TfGM and the Mayor of Greater Manchester go for the franchising option, TfGM will be able to control fares and service levels. With this model, First, Stagecoach, MCT Travel or Stott’s Tours would be given the right to run a service or a group of bus services for a set period. There will also be a standard livery.
Would a shuttle bus improve mobility around Ashton-under-Lyne town centre?
For many people, the town centre is compact enough to negotiate on foot. Till 2007 there was a previous attempt at providing a shuttle service with stops outside the temporary Phoenix Market Hall. The 300 service ran during shopping hours using minibuses and single decker buses. There was also a short lived shuttle to Ashton Moss.
With the new Tameside (Ashton-under-Lyne) Transport Interchange set to open in 2020, the diversion of some bus routes via Stamford Street, Booth Street, and Gas Street could be considered. Before 1994, the 346 for example used to reach Ashton via Stamford Street and George Street before reaching Wellington Road.
Haven’t we had mobile based parking schemes before in the Tameside area?
There was a short lived mobile phone based parking scheme on the forecourt of Guide Bridge station. Since the SELNEC PTE era, many of Greater Manchester’s railway stations have had free parking.
With Guide Bridge station, the text message based scheme wasn’t unpopular due to the technology. The car park was a pot-holed mess and poorly maintained by a private sector contractor. As a result, commuters chose to park in surrounding streets. The scheme was promptly scrapped and the car park was tarmaced a few years on.
S.V., 07 January 2019.