Free parking U-turn on cars

By David Schout

The City of Melbourne will encourage motorists back to the city during the Christmas period by offering free on-street parking, despite existing policy that seeks to turn cars away in favour of pedestrians and cyclists.

Amid concerns of post-lockdown hesitancy among public transport users, drivers would be lured back into the CBD with free parking from December 1 to January 3 under a propos- al expected to pass at a November 24 council meeting.

Motorists displaying a “parking voucher”, available in selected newspapers or the council website, would avoid receiving a fine.

Time limits would still apply.

It is hoped the scheme, which is set to cost the council $1.6 million assuming a 50 per cent take-up, will see motorists spend their dollars at struggling CBD retailers and hospitality outlets, providing a “sugar hit” to the local economy at the busiest period on the calendar.

The council will look to reduce the cost of both on and off-street parking, lengthen on-street timers and extend a congestion levy waiver.

Councillors voted nine to two in favour of the cheap parking move; those “for” included Lord Mayor Sally Capp who argued the short-term policy shift was both necessary and justified.

Cr Capp said feedback from CBD small businesses suggested the council should make returning to the city as easy as possible for potential consumers, particularly those apprehensive about the current environment.

“We need to do everything we can do to overcome any barriers, real or perceived, to people choosing to come into the city for their work, for their dining, for their shopping or entertainment,” she said.

The Lord Mayor said that the “extraordinary situation” due to COVID-19 meant they simply had to try new strategies.

“As a city and community, we need to be considering all options, some of which will work, and some may not. But certainly, at the moment, many are worth trying as we try to revitalise our city economy and revitalise our city community.”

The move represents a sharp U-turn for years’ worth of council policy that sought to rid the CBD of what it viewed as space-inefficient cars.

Last year the council released a 10-year transport strategy that primarily sought to widen footpaths for pedestrians and drastically increase cycling lanes. To do this, they have already begun reducing and even closing car lanes into and around the Hoddle Grid.

Research for the strategy revealed nine in 10 CBD trips were taken on foot, despite the fact 80 per cent of space was taken up by cars.

Both Greens councillors, Rohan Leppert and Dr Olivia Ball, voted against the cheaper park- ing move at the November 17 Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meeting, arguing the city should instead look to COVID-safe public transport, cycling and walking.

Cr Leppert tweeted the following day that it was “hard not to feel like years of hard-won policy is unravelling”.

“I am very concerned that the COVID- induced recession is being used as an argument that the economics of the city have fundamentally changed since the adoption of the Transport Strategy 2030, and that new times call for a temporary car-led recovery,” he said.

“The law of supply and demand hasn’t been suspended in a recession. I sincerely hope that before the council adopts a fee structure that may risk the congestion of the Hoddle Grid with people looking for free car parks that just aren’t available, compromising the excellent plans for people-focused streets and places in the central city that the council is rolling out, that the economics of parking are genuinely considered.”

The council has also begun discussions with private car park operators around reduced fees during the busy December period.

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