Cambridge Tow-Away Scheme

Since it started in 1992, it lumbered on as an "issue", provoking strong feelings. Reports abounded of the scheme causing tourists to be stranded, pets to be kidnapped and such like. Its demise, at the end of September 1996, was announced by the County Council on 22 May but since then interested parties, such as the Cambridge Retail and Commercial Association and the city centre management steering group, campaigning unsuccessfully for its retention and preferably a return to the 1992-1994 level of the scheme.

125 for parking fine plus release fee proved to be a real deterrent. The fact is that illegal parking was reduced drastically, which benefitted everyone. Traffic flowed more smoothly and pavements & cycle lanes were blocked less often.

It is true that some signposting of tow-away zones and "safe" zones was confusing but the Police or at least the Magistrates did try to let off anyone falling foul of such.

Public pressure forced the County Council to tone down the scheme in March 1994, curtailing Sunday operation for instance. This drastically reduced the profits of the tow-away contractors Arcade Motors (presumably contributing to its going into receivership in October 1995) and forced the County Council to inject money to keep the scheme running - 900,000 in June 1995 from parking fees and probably double that in 1996.

The CEN reported on 15-Jan-1996 that the City traffic managers were considering raising the price of visitor's parking fees just to keep the tow-away scheme solvent. This meant both the car park/parking meter fees and the fee residents pay for visitor's parking permits.

County Council politicians made a mess of the renewal of the tow-away contract, due on 1-Apr-1996. The previous contract was extended whilst details of the tender were worked out. The contract was with Arcade Traffic Management, the company having been bought out from the administrator and renamed
(CEN 6-Apr).

The Police head of finance, Fred Daniels, said that Council members were considering changes to the terms of the contract. In the end they abandoned the whole thing. Another complication was the Government's reorganisation of the Police Authority, separating it from the County Council - this consumed a sizable chunk of public money.

By May 1996 the scheme had towed away 18,000 vehicles and received 1.9M in fees. In 1992 it was averaging 20 cars a day but after being toned down the average was just 7.

Fixed penalties have replaced tow-away but the scheme may return if proved necessary, perhaps operated by the Council as as the Police seem uninterested. Only a week after the scheme ended, a lot more parking tickets were being issued.

The originator of the tow-away scheme, former Labour councillor Tony Carter, criticised his ex-colleagues for caving in to public pressure and pointed out that a 12 parking fine is no deterrent when it costs 10 per day to park in the Lion Yard car park. His successor as transport spokesman and as chairman of the traffic managers group is Dave Kelleway, who urged the scrapping of the scheme.

Cambridge : Archive