A three-month free parking trial has been proposed to "put to bed" whether the cost of parking is putting people off shopping in Tauranga's city centre.
Mainstreet Tauranga submitted the free parking trial proposal to the Tauranga City Council which the councillors will vote on next week.
The proposal asks for a minimum three-month trial, to start in August, giving people the first two hours parking free. A group of downtown retailers, led by Bill Campbell of Fancy That, have been advocating free parking for a number of years, believing the cost of parking was a deterrent for shoppers to the CBD who had free parking in other shopping centres.
Mainstreet Tauranga spokeswoman Sally Cooke said the trial would give quantifiable data of what influence the cost of parking had "in the grand scheme of things".
"We've had this debate for such a long period of time, it will be nice to get something possibly formative."
As well as occupancy data, foot traffic data and feedback from businesses could be used to measure the success of the trial. "We don't know if parking is the biggest issue in the city centre. The trial will allow us to check some of that."
Ms Cooke said the free parking proposal was one of a raft of things the organisation would be trialling to revitalise the city. There was a risk staff would use the parks but the organisation would work with retailers, many of whom supported the trial, to limit this.
Tauranga City Council transportation manager Martin Parkes said the Mainstreet proposal looked at data collected over the past 12 months and at a perception survey the council took with the community of issues in the city centre. In the survey, parking was the highest ranking issue as something that needed to change to bring people back to the CBD, followed by more shops.
Mr Parkes said one of the key aspects of parking management was ensuring there were parks for people when and where they wanted it. In peak parking time, 11am to 2pm, certain streets in the CBD had almost 100 per cent occupancy. "We need to be careful we don't create a situation where all the stock is taken up so people can't enjoy what we're trying to create in the city centre."
Deputy mayor Kelvin Clout said he was in favour of the proposal. "But there are 10 other members that need to decide as well."
Mr Clout said the council was concerned about the "fiscal situation" so there would be some push back from council on the cost of the trial, estimated to be between $375,000 and $400,000 in lost revenue, and the benefits. "We will be able to put this baby to bed. If free parking doesn't really revitalise the city then clearly that isn't the problem."