Turns out, Italian mayors are less likely to issue parking fines before elections

“Ah, just leave it anywhere, mate”: Rome, 1977. Image: Getty.

Most of the 20m fines issued every year by municipalities in Italy are for illegal parking, speeding, entering bus lanes or skipping congestion charges. They account for about 15 per cent of non-tax revenues for local authorities, bringing in €11 per capita a year.

But I’ve found that Italy’s mayors tend to act with far greater leniency towards unruly drivers when an election approaches.

Elected governments all over the world time policies to maximise their chances of re-election. Raising the pay of civil servants or cutting taxes delivers greater returns for a party if announced just before it faces a public vote. Unpopular reforms, meanwhile, are more likely to be implemented in the first part of a term in government. This is known as the political budget cycle.

I collected data from municipal budgets and elections over the past 20 years, looking in particular at how many parking tickets each mayor issued, and how much money they actually managed to collect. I divided mayors into two groups according to their so-called “electoral incentives” – that is, whether they feel their re-election is at risk.

There are a number of ways to measure these “electoral incentives”. The simplest is to consider the margin of victory with which the incumbent won the previous election. Mayors elected with just a few votes more than their challenger are bound to be under stronger pressure in the incoming elections. I also looked at mayors who are at the end of their term and close to facing another election, as opposed to mayors who are freshly elected.

Just like US presidents, Italian mayors are barred from seeking re-election after their second term in office, so I also compared mayors in their first term (and therefore seeking re-election) with mayors in their second term (barred from running).

Effect of Electoral Incentives on traffic enforcement. Average Euros per capita. Lines are 95 per cent confidence intervals.

Mayors elected with a small margin of victory issue almost €1 per capita less in fines, and cash in about 50 euro cents less than those who won elections with a wide margin. Mayors who barely won their seat don’t seem to want to disappoint those precious marginal voters and put their own re-election at risk.

Mayors in their second (and last) term in office are slightly more strict. By law they cannot run for a third term, so perhaps they feel more free to charge drivers. They know they won’t pay an electoral cost as a result.

Last, we look into the third way to pinpoint political budget cycles, by comparing mayors nearing the end of their term in office with those who have just been elected. The former issue roughly the same amount of fines as colleagues at the beginning of their term, but they cash on average 18 euro cents per capita fewer per year. This may not seem very much, but would account for about €1.5m in a year for municipalities such as Milan or Rome. The closer the elections, the more lenient they get in chasing undisciplined drivers. They seem to be trying not to bother drivers just as they are deciding how to cast their vote.


The ConversationThe moral of the story is that if your mayor fears for their re-election you’re less likely to get a ticket for your parking indiscretions. You’re also less likely to be chased for payment if you do get one.

But of course, you’d never park where you shouldn’t anyway, regardless of when the next election is. Would you?

Emanuele Bracco, Senior Lecturer in Economics, Lancaster University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Covid-19 is highlighting cities' unequal access to green space

In the UK, Londoners are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

As coronavirus lockdowns ease, people are flooding back to parks – but not everyone has easy access to green space in their city.

Statistics from Google show that park attendance in countries across the globe has shot up as people have been allowed to move around their cities again.

This is especially true in urban areas, where densely populated neighbourhoods limit the size of private green space – meaning residents have to go to the park to get in touch with nature. Readers from England can use our interactive tool below to find out how much green space people have access to in their area, and how it compares to the rest of the country.

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement Monday that people are allowed to mingle in parks and gardens with groups of up to six people was partially following what people were doing already.

Data from mobile phones show people have been returning to parks across the UK, and also across Europe, as weather improves and lockdown eases.

People have been returning to parks across the world

Stay-at-home requirements were eased in Italy on 4 May, which led to a flood of people returning to parks.

France eased restrictions on 1 May, and the UK eased up slightly on 13 May, allowing people to sit down in public places so long as they remain socially distanced.

Other countries have seen park attendance rise without major easing of lockdown – including Canada, Spain, and the US (although states there have individual rules and some have eased restrictions).

In some countries, people never really stopped going to parks.

Authorities in the Netherlands and Germany were not as strict as other countries about their citizens visiting local parks during lockdown, while Sweden has famously been avoiding placing many restrictions on people’s daily lives.


There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that access to green space has major benefits for public health.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Exeter found that spending time in the garden is linked to similar benefits for health and wellbeing as living in wealthy areas.

People with access to a private garden also had higher psychological wellbeing, and those with an outdoor space such as a yard were more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than those without access to outdoor space. 

Separate UK research has found that living with a regular view of a green space provides health benefits worth £300 per person per year.

Access is not shared equally, however, which has important implications for equality under lockdown, and the spread of disease.

Statistics from the UK show that one in eight households has no garden, making access to parks more important.

There is a geographic inequality here. Londoners, who have the least access to private gardens, are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. 

However the high population in the capital means that on the whole, green space per person is lower – an issue for people living in densely populated cities everywhere.

There is also an occupational inequality.

Those on low pay – including in what are statistically classed as “semi-skilled” and “unskilled” manual occupations, casual workers and those who are unemployed – are almost three times as likely as those in managerial, administrative, professional occupations to be without a garden, meaning they rely more heavily on their local park.

Britain’s parks and fields are also at significant risk of development, according to new research by the Fields in Trust charity, which shows the number of people living further than a 10-minute walk from a public park rising by 5% over the next five years. That loss of green spaces is likely to impact disadvantaged communities the most, the researchers say.

This is borne out by looking at the parts of the country that have private gardens.

The least deprived areas have the largest gardens

Though the relationship is not crystal clear, it shows at the top end: Those living in the least deprived areas have the largest private green space.

Although the risk of catching coronavirus is lower outdoors, spending time in parks among other people is undoubtedly more risky when it comes to transmitting or catching the virus than spending time in your own outdoor space. 

Access to green space is therefore another example – along with the ability to work from home and death rates – of how the burden of the pandemic has not been equally shouldered by all.

Michael Goodier is a data reporter at New Statesman Media Group, and Josh Rayman is a graphics and data visualisation developer at New Statesman Media Group.