Lancaster City Council clocked up nearly £2 million in profit from parking charges last year – a record high.
The AA says many local authorities see drivers as a “wallet on wheels”, and has accused some of using parking fees to plug budget gaps.
Parking services in Lancaster raised £1.9 million in profit in 2018-19, according to Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government data.
This was the highest profit the council has made from parking since comparable records began in 2008-09.
All the profit made by the council last year came from off-street parking, such as local authority-run car parks.
Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA, said: “When it comes to parking charges, many councils see drivers as wallets on wheels.
“At a time when budgets are stretched, raking in parking fees seems to be a tool used to try and fill the councils’ coffers.
“Some of the incomes are eyewatering, so drivers want to see that cash reinvested in local roads to eliminate potholes and poor road markings.”
Transport research charity the RAC Foundation said profits could be overstated in some areas, as costs such as interest payments are not included.
But Steve Gooding, the foundation’s director, said: “What will surprise drivers is that even as parking income soars, the amount of money being spent on routine road maintenance by councils has been in reverse.”
The rise in sums made from parking in Lancaster reflects the trend across England, where profits hit a record high of £936 million.
This was an increase of £63 million from the previous year.
David Renard, transport spokesman for the Local Government Association, said councils were on the side of motorists and shoppers, and that parking policies aim to make sure there are spaces available for residents, high streets are kept vibrant and traffic is kept moving.
He added: “Any income raised through on-street parking charges and fines is spent on running parking services, and any surplus is only spent on essential transport projects, such as filling potholes, supporting concessionary bus fares to help reduce congestion and other local transport projects that benefit high streets and local economies.”
The council with the highest profit last year was Westminster, which made £69 million from parking charges.
But in Buckinghamshire, parking services cost the council £2.9 million – the biggest loss for any council.
A spokesman for Lancaster City Council said: “Ensuring visitors to our city and town centres have somewhere to park is vital to the council’s aim of growing the local economy
“Good quality facilities that reflect the needs of shoppers, workers and local businesses, with a mix of both short stay and long stay, are a mark of a thriving retail centre.
“Income raised from parking allows us to invest in our facilities, important infrastructure and the public realm to make our district a more attractive place. Without the income we receive from parking charges none of these investments would be able to take place.
“Charges also help to ensure a regular turnover of spaces, meaning that people can always find a space to park, thereby reducing congestion and helping to manage traffic more effectively.”