City parking

Any discussion about city parking, and therefore any policy on the matter, should return to the underlying reason for restricted and paid parking.

Fundamentally, it exists so that shoppers and others going about their business in and near town can find somewhere temporary and reasonably handy to park their cars. That means parking spaces should not be hogged.

That means time limits, charges and strict enforcement are all justified towards the end of moving cars along as necessary. Sometimes that means provision for five- or 10-minute parks, like outside a Post Shop or a takeaway coffee outlet. In most other places, longer periods are required to allow for browsing and buying, for appointments and meetings.

Often, however, parking policies have - whether articulated or not - other aims, particularly revenue gathering. This temptation should be, but seldom is, resisted. Whatever the protestations of councillors, the evidence is strong that this is one of the main goals in Dunedin.

Another justification is to attempt to encourage more citizens on to buses, an aim that surfaced and was supported during debate before the recent parking debacle in Dunedin.

In an age of "user-pays", the costs of parking buildings, parking meters, enforcement and depreciation should all come out of parking revenue. Ratepayers should not subsidise parkers and some charges are appropriate so that cost recovery can be achieved. Even a little surplus would not be begrudged.

But should income extend to substantial subsidies of other council costs, i.e. rates? Should motorists be paying indirectly towards, say, Moana Pool or the Dunedin Botanic Garden or the Forsyth Barr Stadium? That is, in effect, what has happened for years because the motorist is an easy target.

News emerged this week that the city council's meter costs were $1 million and the revenue $3 million, making a $2 million surplus. Deputy mayor Syd Brown defended the profits, saying they were about right.

Budgeting had been prudent and there was never any intention to increase profits made from parking as a result of the parking strategy changes. That might be so, but what is starkly revealed is how much parkers are stung.

Overall, the surplus from parking is down this year because of extra costs installing new meters and because parking-building use is down, despite increased parking-meter income.

But parking meters, parking buildings and off-street car parks still brought in about $5.2 million, with the net surplus $2.25 million.

It is unsurprising that almost everyone scoffs at claims revenue raising is an unimportant aim of parking policy and enforcement. Why do meter attendants bother to ticket cars when all around are empty meters? Surely, that has nothing to do with making sure parking spaces are free where they are needed.

Why, too, do parking hours extend from 5pm to 6pm at a time most businesses and many shops are closed? What that enforcement does is generate easy money via parking fees and parking tickets. It does nothing for parking availability where and when it is needed. On the other hand, attendants should be circling busy streets at times where parking pressure is intense.

While it might be unpopular, consistency with the fundamental principles would mean extending parking restrictions to the inner city during the popular shopping hours between 1pm and 4pm on Sundays.

The millions raised through parks, parking buildings and off-street parking is a handy subsidy, especially because ratepayers face both soaring rates and soaring debts from a spendthrift council. However, rorting parkers not only provides too easy money for too easy spending, but the policy could also have serious unintended long-term consequences.

Greed here could undermine the central retail core, an attractive and important part of life in Dunedin. In particular, too much profit gouging combined with attempts to manipulate parking costs and parking convenience to encourage public transport could well drive more shoppers to the "big-box" retailers and their acres of free parking.

In the long run, millions of dollars in surpluses will drain away if Dunedin follows the pattern of many cities and loses its heart.


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