Central city businesses 'overwhelmingly positive' about free parking

https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/102939161/central-city-businesses-overwhelmingly-positive-about-free-parking

Occupancy of central Hamilton city carparks have gone up since the free parking trial started in October and, according to parking wardens on the ground, people who would normally go to The Base and Chartwell are going back to the city centre.

At Hamilton City Council's Growth and Infrastructure Committee meeting on Tuesday, councillors were given the first look at occupancy data showing increases in all four city precincts.

In the Northern precinct, parking numbers were up from 45 per cent to 55 per cent; in the Barton precinct up from 70 per cent to 76 per cent; in the Civic precinct up from 67 per cent to 76 per cent and; in the Southern precinct parking was up from 45 per cent to 65 per cent.

Snapshot owner Graham Boswell said free parking has diffused customers' agitation. They no longer have to scrounge for coins or ask shop owners for change and it's making a big difference to customer's experience.

"I'd be more than happy to have it permanent but we do realise it comes at a cost," he said.

That cost is a targeted rate of $150 to $200 a year for central city properties and $26 a year for general ratepayers.

Council set a target of 85 per cent parking occupancy as the "sweet spot", said group business manager for city infrastructure Eeva-Liisa Wright. More than that could lead to oversaturation and be counterproductive to central city revitalisation.

Boswell, whose Victoria Street store is located in the Civic precinct, said while there are more people around, it doesn't necessarily mean there is more spending.

Council agrees. The report into the trial shows an increase in economic activity but there is no evidence to show it is a direct result of the free parking trial.

"It's not so much the quantity or the crowds that have come to the city. We know people will come in to take advantage of the free parking but more importantly, it's bringing the city alive again."

On London Street, Machina owner Gurdeep Rana said he's noticed more foot traffic on the footpath during the trial period.

"There seems to be more people in town but there seems to be less parking. The number one complaint I get is people can't get a park so they drive straight past," Rana said.

People are confused about the free parking and staff have had to explain how it works. Some motorists continue to fill the meters and a better education platform is needed.

But like Boswell, Rana is also in favour of a permanent free parking and people who are parked longer might spend more.

"I think it's a good thing. You don't have worry about coming back and topping up after an hour but I don't think enough people know it's free."

Hamilton Central Business Association general manager Vanessa Williams said business opinion is overwhelmingly positive.

"The businesses are liking their customers having the opportunity to park free," Williams said.

Spending in the Hamilton CBD has increased steadily since 2012 from $549 million to $633m in the central city zone in 2017. In the final quarter of 2017, total spending in the central city was $174m compared to $165m in the same period in 2016.

City councillors voted 8 to 3 to continue the trial until the May 29 meeting of the Growth and Infrastructure Committee where an updated reported and recommendation on how to proceed beyond the nominated trial period will be tabled.

Crs Geoff Taylor, Mark Bunting, Siggi Henry, Chairman Dave Macpherson, Mayor Andrew King, Ryan Hamilton, Rob Pascoe and Angela O'Leary voted for staff to send an update to the May meeting.

Crs James Casson​, Leo Tooman and Garry Mallett were opposed. Crs Martin Gallagher and Paula Southgate were attending the funeral of former city councillor Jean Vickridge.

Mallett said the city has $337,000 in lost parking meter revenue from October 2017 to February 2018 and stands to lose $800,000, annualised, in the current financial year.

"I think those who benefit from the parking should pay, not the ratepayer," Mallett said. "Given the constrained situation we as a council find ourselves in and a constrained situation a number of our ratepayers have found themselves in with receipt of the (proposed rates) letter, I will not support this."

Geoff Taylor said the trial has a few wrinkles that need ironing out but the proof is in the pudding.

"The occupancy in the CBD has increased," Taylor said. "The occupancy of the four precincts has increased.

"Overall, it is certainly working and half of the battle was improving the public perception about parking in the CBD and this is exactly what it's doing."