U-turn on cars

U-turn on cars

By David Schout

The City of Melbourne is encouraging motorists back to the inner 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 are being lured back with free parking throughout the municipality until January 3.

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

Time limits, disabled parking restrictions, clearways, no standing zones and residential permit restrictions 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 retailers and hospitality outlets, providing a “sugar hit” to the local economy at the busiest period on the calendar.

On-street parking within the central city is normally $7 an hour, and $4 an hour outside the central city.

Councillors eventually voted eight to three 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 at the November 17 Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meeting.

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, and councillor Jamal Hakim voted against the cheaper parking move, arguing the city should instead look to COVID-safe public transport, cycling and walking.

Cr Leppert tweeted 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 added.

“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.”

Under the move, drivers need to display the vouchers on their dashboard, and will still need to observe the green sign time limit.

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