I Shot The Sheriff

Ignoring – for now – the survey recently confirming the number one city’s reputation as the unfriendliest in the world (again), we have two good pieces of news to empty the prams of the car lobby.

First up, the cancellation of the Lobau Tunnel project which would have burrowed under the famous nature reserve in the east of Vienna, linking various stretches of quasi motorway to ease pressure on the more famous Tangente (A23) which cuts though the south of the city.

Unusually for traffic politics in the number one Stadt, it has caused an unprecedented level of vexation: local mayor and inspiration for garden gnomes everywhere, Michael Ludwig, isn’t happy; Joanna Mikl-Leitner, provincial governor of Lower Austria (which surrounds Vienna much like the Turks in 1683), isn’t happy; and the Austrian Automobile Association (ÖAMTC), purveyors of the perennial winner of most “Uninspiring Monthly Publication in the History of the Austrian Republic” (Auto Touring), aren’t happy, claiming it will heap more misery on the poor users of said Tangente, predicting 180 days of traffic jams in both directions costing 500 million Euro a year in lost productivity.

Now, the obvious solution might be not to drive, saving a ton of money and time, judging by the doom-laden warnings on congestion (obvs). Of course, I always chuckle when people complain about being stuck in “traffic” because anyone stuck in traffic, IS traffic. Predictably, however, rather than relieving traffic flow, as it was originally intended, the Tangente, and many like it built in the 1970s (the repairs like the Forth Bridge in Scotland never seemingly end) is a textbook case of what happens when a road is constructed, or new lanes added: cars will eventually fill it to capacity. (In the UK the best example is the M25 London orbital; the UK’s biggest carpark.)

There are numerous other examples we could mention but the fallacy of “capacity expansion” as a solution to over-crowding or congestion was first identified at the Vienna summer swimming pools when it was proved that it didn’t matter how many sun-loungers you provided to paying guests, they would all be taken by eight-thirty in the morning. Yet, this is what ultimately did it for the Lobau Tunnel and hats off to Leonore Gewessler, Green Minister for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Rat Catching and Safe Sewage for finally making a decision that reeks of common sense.

Meanwhile, in related news, this month we received some important information concerning a subject very close to my heart. Yes, parking permits are coming to our district in March 2022, and from the first of December it has been possible to apply for one online. I have done so and I can report is was easy, although trying to pay online using my credit card and the 3D payment hoops designed for maximum vexation was its usual hassle. Indeed, Paylife (an apt name for the guys who run Mastercard) should heed the words from the guys who wrote “Nudge” and take steps to curb the “sludge”. In other words, make important/good things easier (paying online, getting a vaccination, quitting the far right Freedom Party), and bad things harder (accessing Instagram, purchasing Red Bull and joining the FPÖ).

Anyhow, according to my district flyer, there are several reasons why parking permits are happening now. First to eradicate the “interminable circular search looking for a space” (a key reason explaining the unfriendliness of the Viennese). Second, “roads full of commercial vehicles and cars without Vienna number plates” (ditto). And third, and indeed my favourite, the extension of likeminded permits for the whole of the 11th district in Simmering (in fact all of Vienna from next year) which would send cars “fleeing west of Schwechat down the Schnellstrasse S1 to find sanctuary in the nearby 23rd district” (my home). Incidentally, the town of Schwechat borders Vienna and fearing an influx of foreign number plates, they are also already planning to introduce their own parking restriction as the vehicular domino effect ravages unchecked in this part of Austria.

And the benefits to the number one city? Well, it will improve the parking situation for residents, it will reduce traffic overall as drivers are discouraged from entering the city (200 thousand cars a day from outside of Vienna), it will improve the air quality with less noise and pollution, and, much underrated but nevertheless crucial as we emerge from Covid lockdowns, it will cut the number of Red Bull cans tossed from passing or parked wanKars by their knucklehead occupants.

Seriously, when they restricted parking in the 10th district, there was a noticeable decrease in kerbside litter (observed after sitting on countless journeys on various bus routes). There is a simple explanation for this. If you live somewhere other than where you are temporarily parked, it is effortless to open your car-door, bin your crap and drive off (car drivers also proportionally drink more energy drinks, which is why you often find the empties next to/on the pavement or in the middle of roadside verges). The consequences are few given it is easily concealed, meaning the risk of social or moral sanction is virtually zero (especially under cover of darkness). Conversely, it is extremely unlikely that anyone would dump the remnants of their breakfast, lunch or late-night snack outside the place they live, because – crucially – you not only run the risk of community shaming, but also almost nobody wants to live in a litter-strewn shithole (except teenage boys).

Anyhow, back in permit-land, insiders will know that the real catalyst for their introduction was my meeting in 2018 with district head in his office down at the Bezirksamt, where I made it clear that I would not be applying for a Brexit resident permit unless we had to pay to park on our street. As such, this is what I can tell you:

The scheme is open to all car owners who have a main residence in a particular district and by my reckoning, this should eliminate 50% of the cars usually parking in our street. It will run from Monday to Friday from nine till ten o’clock (without the permit, parking is restricted to two hours in any one place) although weekends are free from restrictions. The price for this for one year is 120 Euro although notably there are other initial charges covering the cost of “application fee”, “administration fee” and “money for the tea kitty fee” bringing a grand total of a rather specific 159 Euro and 30 cents. Although this is more if you apply in person to the Magistrat because in Vienna, friendly human interaction comes at a premium.

For those of you doing the maths, the permit itself (restricted only to your home district and crucially not city wide) will thus cost the equivalent of 10 Euro per car per month and surplus revenues will be reinvested in public transport. Naturally, this has caused some consternation. Indeed, I have had many conversations over the years with some car owning residents who are clearly unhappy at the prospect of having to pay 33 cents a day (a third of the price of a yearly city travel card) to rent, 24-7 if so desired, six square metres of city land. Incidentally, to buy the same size piece of “building” land in Vienna would set you back about six thousand Euro (based on 2018 average price of land data from Statistics Austria), equivalent to a fifty-year permit. But my belief is that if you can afford to run any car (and have smartphone) then 120 extra per year is peanuts when most cars are losing ten times that every year just in depreciation.

More than one parking permit is possible per household but this is contingent on individual registration documents. In other words, it’s one person, one Parkpickerl and so if you have more than one car, then you either need a driveway, garage or transfer ownership to someone else in your house, although this person has to be the principal driver of said vehicle. Thereby excluding any attempts to circumnavigate the rules by assigning your beloved car to your teenage child who has just passed their test, or better, the elderly relative who lives in the flat upstairs, or your second Austrian family in the cellar. A leased vehicle is also allowed (although technically the lessee is not the owner more a conduit for failed aspirations), as are company cars as long as it is designated for private use. This will inevitably mean bye, bye to all the parked up white vans, except, of course, the ones delivering my special orders from Demmers Teehaus which will have singular permission to wait in front of our house as long as I need them.

In other words, I didn’t really shoot the Park Sheriff, but I definitely drank the Wiener tea.

© 2021 RJ Barratt

Funfacts: the rollout of the city-wide short-term parking will require 1500 new traffic signs, 250 new fabulously named “Parksheriffs” (on top of the 630 already in service), and the elimination of 229 thousand currently free parking spaces (in the sense they will require either a fee or a permit to park from March 2022).