Parking levies simple but unpopular

By Mathew Dearnaley, click on 'More Pictures', Mathew Dearnaley
For map of parking levy areas

It's the simplest of five charging schemes being considered in the fightback against Auckland's crippling traffic congestion, but a parking levy looks the most unpopular and least effective option.

Parking charges are the devil we know, as opposed to more exotic road-pricing schemes, but a Ministry of Transport study indicates high public resistance to a possible $10 surcharge on top of what motorists already pay.

That compares with daily limits of $5 or $6 suggested for each of four road-pricing schemes also under consideration, including cordon tolling and charging motorists for driving within an almost 40sq km spread of central Auckland.

Even without being told how much they may have to pay, 36 per cent of a surveyed 600 Aucklanders nominated a parking levy as their least preferred option.

But 26 per cent deemed it their most preferred option, a paradox the ministry says may be because relatively few people would be affected and it was not seen as particularly effective.

In a separate survey, only 20 per cent of 416 drivers said they would pay a $10 levy, against 22 per cent who would park outside chargeable zones and walk the rest of the way.

Only 2 per cent would park outside the zones and catch a bus from there, although 21 per cent would switch to public transport for the entire journey.

How it would work

The ministry has nominated four possible levy zones, covering the central business districts of Auckland stretching to Newmarket, and of Manukau, Henderson and Takapuna.

Motorists would be expected to display coupons for each week-day they parked in the zones between 6am and 10am, whether on city streets, in parking buildings, shopping malls or even their own workplaces.

Only people living in the zones, and disadvantaged groups such as the disabled or jobless people in training schemes, could hope to be exempted.

Building owners may be offered an "opt-out" deal, paying a flat rate for each available parking space and deciding whether to recover costs from staff or customers later.

Overseas experience

A $400 annual parking levy was adopted in January in Melbourne, drawing on land transfer office building records to assess chargeable spaces and sparing property owners the legally fraught prospect of visits from parking wardens.

But even that scheme, levying non-residential property owners for any parking spaces used more than four hours a day, is proving controversial.

The charge will double next year to $800 and has already spurred a black market in residential parking spaces, but even the higher rate will be only one-third of what Aucklanders face.

Some of the Melbourne proceeds are used for free bus services to ferry people from outside the levy zone.

But Wilson Parking, the main private operator in both Auckland and Melbourne, says a leaked independent study of schemes in Sydney and Perth indicates levies here would have no effect on traffic congestion and would be bad for the inner-city economy.

General manager Craig Smith, whose company already charges up to $32 for casual parking and $17 a day for "earlybird" deals in Auckland, believes all city stakeholders "will be appalled by such a negative intervention that has been proven not to work".

Pros and cons

Cabinet briefing material acknowledges that local parking charges could suppress economic activity in chargeable zones and chase away business.

Waitakere City Council is concerned that plans to revitalise Henderson might suffer if it has to compete against non-levied neighbours such as New Lynn and Westgate.

But officials say a pedestrian-friendly area well-served by public transport could, on the other hand, become more attractive to shoppers.

They say a parking levy would be cheaper to implement, with lower collection costs than road-pricing schemes dependent on high-technology scanning devices.

But modelling suggests levying will be far less successful at reducing congestion than road-pricing schemes as it does not capture traffic passing through and not parking. 

Levy would make parking bonus too much

Newmarket retailer Todd Male says he will no longer be able to subsidise staff parking if a $10 daily levy is imposed to ease traffic congestion.

Mr Male, owner of landmark clothing store Route 66 on Broadway, has five reserved parking spaces nearby and pays fulltime staff half the cost of using them.

But a levy would double the cost "and I just couldn't afford that".

Others of his 15 full- or part-time staff park outside Newmarket's business zone and spend 10 to 15 minutes walking the rest of the way.

The spiralling cost of petrol is already prompting some to consider car-pooling from West Auckland, and several workers catch trains stopping just behind the store.

Mr Male says he would support some form of pricing plan to reduce congestion but imposing a levy on Newmarket and not other shopping areas such as Parnell would be unfair, especially as most traffic clogging up Broadway was just passing through and would avoid the $10 fee.

He expects to keep driving to work himself, as he needs his car for business errands during the day, but in the past he has not been averse to cycling.

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