No Such Thing as a Free Car Park

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Central business districts around New Zealand are suffering.

Shops that thrived for generations now lie empty due to drops in customer numbers, increases in rents and the rise of internet trading and ill-conceived council planning allowing giant malls to be built on city peripheries.

Currently the most popular panacea to injecting life into central cities seems to be offering free parking.

All the cool North Island cities are doing it – Rotorua, Hastings, Tauranga, Hamilton, Palmerston North

And now Napier is joining in on the fun, with our city council deciding to provide free on-street parking in Central Napier on Saturday November 28 for its (VERY EARLY) Christmas festival and in Taradale on December 5th for their festive fair.

There’s no such thing as a free car park, however, and NCC estimates “losses of (parking) revenue to the council of about $4200 in the city and $700 in Taradale) for these days.

But is there really a loss of revenue?

If having to pay for parking is such a turn-off to central city visitors, or the parking is too expensive, no one will park there, so no income will come from that parking space regardless of cost.

It’s like airline flights being too expensive.

If a seat on a certain flight isn’t sold – no matter how expensive of cheap the price may be, the moment the doors close and that plane takes off, the airline will NEVER recoup the money for that unfilled seat on that particular flight.

So is the cost of parking the actual problem?

Go into Napier’s CBD on any particular weekday when you have to pay for parking and the closer you get to the centre of town, the harder it will be to find an empty car park.

Having to pay for parking isn’t stopping people parking in town.

Heck, go to Wellington, where parking costs in the centre of town are ridiculously high and viciously enforced and you will have an even harder time finding an available car park.

To put it bluntly, price is no barrier to laziness. The closer people can drive to their destination and the shorter the distance they have to walk, the better.

Fifty cents or a dollar or two isn’t a great inhibitor to that.

The parking fines for over-staying your allotted time, however, might be.

When compared to other centres’ parking fines and fees, Napier’s are actually quite reasonable.

Putting a dollar in a central Napier parking meter buys you the right to keep your car there for, say, an hour.

But get way-laid and return fifteen minutes to just over an hour late and you run the risk of facing an additional $12-$21 parking fine (the time examples given being merely a reasonable representation of how long an appointment or lunch with friends might over-run their anticipated time).

Is the equivalent of twelve hours’ worth of parking time a fair penalty for being a quarter of an hour late?

How does 25c worth of time justifiably manifest itself into a fee forty-eight times that value?

Worse still, fail or forget to display one of the tickets from a parking-lot machine on your dashboard and you’re in for a fine closer to $40.

For some that’s a week’s worth of petrol and they just can’t afford to take that risk.

Parking fines that better reflect the value of the park that is being over-stayed in might be a better idea.

Lower fines would likely be more easily and promptly paid too.

If all else fails you can just do what I usually do – park at one of the hundreds of one and two hour “free parking” spaces that ring Napier’s CBD – Along parts of Marine Parade, next to the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council building, up Shakespeare Road and down Munroe Street – soak up the wonderful Napier weather and enjoy the very short stroll from these already ratepayer-funded car parks into town.

Ultimately, there has to be something in town worth paying to stay and visit, too.

Rows of empty shops, vacated when landlords’ income expectations far exceed their current worth won’t attract people into city centres.

Neither will a lack of events or activities that enhance or compliment the CBD.

Bringing vibrancy and vitality back to our CBDs is what is needed to re-enliven our city centres.

If city councillors, or those tasked with looking after the heartbeat of our main business and shopping areas seriously think that a dollar or two is the only thing inhibiting our city centres from thriving, it’s beyond time they stood aside.

Why should a CBD’s vitality be fined for their over-staying?

Hawke’s Bay’s (and New Zealand’s) inner cities deserve better!

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