Car sharing policy failing

By Shane Scanlan

Car sharing is going nowhere in the CBD for at least 12 months following a botched new policy position from the City of Melbourne.

Despite declaring an ambitious expansion target (2000 spaces by 2021), officers and councillors have succeeded in only confusing the industry and themselves about a way forward.

The issue played out in July and August, starting with a convoluted proposed new formula involving differential rates and ratios of private and public parking spaces and ending in even less certainty.

Despite councillors coming to a conclusion on the matter on July 28, car share businesses still don’t know where they stand in an operational sense and can’t say what the next year will hold.

As one operator said, their “light at the end of the tunnel” is a promised review of the council’s policy in 12 months time.

After a confrontational and acrimonious airing of the council’s new position at the Future Melbourne Committee meeting on July 14, councillors believed they crafted a sensible compromise which they adopted at their July 28 meeting.

But, while some councillors may have come to grips with some of the high-level policy considerations, a lack of definition around the detail has left operators guessing. 

Even the geographic boundaries of what constitutes the “CBD” was left undefined.

One of the major stumbling blocks with the engineering-department-inspired new policy was a recommendation to only release valuable street parking spaces if operators go out and acquire another two privately. 

The councillors subsequently reduced this to one, but the policy is still proving to be a major barrier.

The operators don’t know if the council wants them to acquire new private spaces or whether their current collection of private spaces will qualify them for new on-street parks. 

They also don’t know whether new on-street spaces would be shared evenly between them.

Flexicar chief executive Greg Giraud explained that his firm already had 20 off-street parks within the Hoddle Grid – nearly three times the number of on-street spaces (seven).

Mr Giraud said that, if off-street private spaces worked for car share companies, the CBD would already be flooded with share cars.

It is the visible and accessible on-street parks that are valuable, even though each new space can take up to two years to become financially viable.

Competition for scarce on-street spaces is likely to entice the players to scramble and stockpile spaces they can’t really afford, with an eye to long-term returns.

But they are suspicious and nervous that the council could again change the rules in the future.

The council is struggling with this issue because it refuses to prioritise the environmental benefits ahead of revenue considerations and it also has no real appreciation of the business dynamics at work.

Councillors say they want to hit targets and then get their backs up when told how to achieve them.

They also take personal offence when the council’s “green” credentials are challenged.

From a CBD point of view, the council’s approach to car share is even worse. 

Nowhere in the whole discussion was any consideration given to need.

It is arguable that council’s policy position should be focused on getting car share into its areas of highest residential and business density – the CBD.

It is here where taking cars off the roads makes the biggest difference.

But, instead, the council will charge $3000 per annum for CBD spaces and only $25 per year in what it calls “residential areas”. 

It is effectively telling the car share companies to establish themselves in the outer municipal areas (where the residential councillors live).

This discrimination is another clear example that our decision makers often forget about the 40,000 people they invited to live in the CBD.

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