DRIVERS are ditching a congestion-busting park-and-ride scheme after operators brought in parking charges, according to a city councillor.
Hundreds of motorists began using the Stadium of Light Metro station as a park-and-ride when the light rail system first came to Wearside.
The scheme was credited with reducing car journeys and easing parking congestion in residential streets.
But Sunderland Tory transport spokesman Peter Wood claims the previously free car park is now rarely more than a fifth full since Metro bosses introduced a £1.60 daily parking charge. He called for the fee to be axed.
“The charge should be scrapped or reduced immediately. We should be encouraging public transport use, not discouraging it,” he said.
“There may be a case for a more modest charge to regulate demand but £1.60 is, clearly, frightening people off.
“It is also discouraging Metro use and, presumably, adds to parking in nearby residential streets.”
Coun Wood, also a member of the Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority, said the 220-bay car park was regularly full before charges were introduced by DB Regio – the private firm which took over running Metro last year.
He said: “Free parking encouraged people to leave their cars there and use public transport for the rest of their journey. It provided a good park-and-ride facility – of which Sunderland needs more, not less.”
Coun Wood also questioned the management of 15 bays reserved for rail operator Grand Central.
“The 15 Grand Central reserved spaces are a good idea but, as none was being used when I was there, presumably need advertising/promoting better,” he said.
“There is no parking at Sunderland station so clearly a facility like that is useful.”
Coun Wood said that as his own research had shown only about a fifth of the car park was being used, DB Regio could not argue it had to cope with a massive demand.
He said reducing the parking charges to a more modest sum such as 50p would actually generate more revenue than keeping them high, as more people would use the car park.
A spokeswoman for DB Regio Tyne and Wear, which manages car parks as part of its contract to operate Metro trains and stations on behalf of Nexus, said the charges were necessary to maintain the car park and improve services.
“Bringing in car park charges was a difficult decision to make, but passengers will see improvements to the Metro service as a direct result of the charge,” she said.
“The car park is a valuable asset for Metro and Sunderland, but there is a cost to maintaining it and the parking charges go towards that.
“Customers will see such improvement locally, benefiting from enhanced facilities including greater security and staff presence at the Stadium of Light, which is one of Metro’s busiest stations and has a higher footfall than other stations due to events including big name concerts and football matches held at the stadium.”