Pay and dismay: the great carpark con

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The Independent Online

Maurice and Beryl Rowe were delighted to secure cheap flights to Naples for their summer holidays - until they discovered the extraordinary cost of airport parking. Bizarre as it may seem, leaving your car outdoors on a windy expanse of tarmac can cost as much as, if not more than, the flight to your dream holiday destination.

Maurice and Beryl Rowe were delighted to secure cheap flights to Naples for their summer holidays - until they discovered the extraordinary cost of airport parking. Bizarre as it may seem, leaving your car outdoors on a windy expanse of tarmac can cost as much as, if not more than, the flight to your dream holiday destination.

The Rowes fly to Naples next month from Stansted at the very reasonable price of £130 (including taxes) with airline Go. But to leave their car behind for the 10-day stay will set them back another £80. Not surprisingly they have opted to hire a taxi from their home in north London at a cost of £50 for the round trip.

"It's just a rip-off," said Maurice, a 73-year-old retired photographer. "In the end we decided it just wasn't worth taking the car. All they are providing is a patch of waste land and then you have to get a bus to the terminal."

Stansted is not by any stretch the worst offender. Take Heathrow, for example. It costs £11.40 a day to park in one of its long-stay car parks or, put another way, £160 for a fortnight's rest for your car.

BAA, which owns both airports and five others, including Gatwick, received £105m in revenue in the 12 months up to March this year through leasing arrangements with private operators such as NCP.

A company spokeswoman admitted that some of its parking charges may seem high but said the rates at its airports were comparable with those at city centres. BAA says the money is reinvested in the airports and public transport links such as the Heathrow Express from Paddington.

The great car park "rip-off" is not confined to airports either. Rail companies are also getting in on the act. Massive increases in parking charges reported at train stations up and down the country have caused such a furore that they have prompted questions to be asked in parliament amid evidence that the rates are putting people off travelling by train and encouraging them to drive instead.

Even at the sleepiest of stations, passengers have been shocked to find that once reasonable prices are soaring following a move by train operators to lease car parks to private contractors. Since First Great Western handed over the running of many of its car parks from Reading through to Swansea and the south west to private contractors Apcoa, it has been inundated with complaints.

Christiana Holmes, for example, was horrified to discover it now costs as much to park her car at Tiverton Parkway station as the return rail fare to London when she spends a week with her grandchildren. The train ticket costs £21 while a day's parking is now £3.10. She said that until April, Tiverton Parkway, which lies several miles from Tiverton and is only practicably accessible by car, used to cost £2.50 per day with a maximum charge of £7.50 for the week.

Holidaymakers may be willing to take a taxi for a one-off trip, but cabs are hardly an option for daily journeys.

Mrs Holmes, 61, said: "Great Western is misusing its monopoly. It is making it impossible to go to London for a week. The car park is now the same price as the rail fare."

The Great Western rises - as much as five-fold at some stations - and evidence of increases on other train lines prompted the Liberal Democrats' transport spokesman Don Foster to raise the matter with the Government. Mr Foster said: "Now that many station car parks are under the management of private operators with no direct involvement in rail services provision, car parking charges are rapidly rising to unreasonable levels. There is a suspicion that operators are taking advantage of season ticket holders who are locked into having to use their car parks."

First Great Western could not be contacted - its phones were either permanently engaged or rang continuously - and Apcoa referred all calls to First Great Western.

Passenger power has struck at least one blow in the battle over rising parking charges.

Furious at an overnight increase to £4 a day when, according to Mr Foster, it used to cost no more than £4 a week, travellers using Totnes train station in Devon began a campaign to reduce the ticket prices.

A leaflet campaign, adverse publicity in the local newspaper and a flood of complaints have prompted First Great Western to reduce prices from £4 to £2.50 a day - a victory train passengers using station car parks will hope to emulate up and down the country.

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