Sonya is the head of news at the Bay of Plenty Times.

Retailers call for more free parking

The free parking trial in Rotorua's central city has turned the area from a ghost town into a thriving and bustling shopping area, businesses say.

The Rotorua District Council introduced free two-hour parking in the CBD for the 12 days leading up to Christmas and it was predicted the cost of the initiative would be between $20,000 and $30,000 in lost parking fine revenue and about $3000 in marketing and promotion costs.

The council says it is ending the free parking trial for now but will do a full evaluation in February to see if it will be suitable for a longer period.

Rockshop manager Daryl Cogger, whose store is in Eruera St, would like the council to continue to have free parking year round.

"I've spoken to other retailers in the area, the day it was introduced town literally got twice as busy - it was as if someone turned the tap on.

"We've got customers who travel from Reporoa and Tokoroa, they say to me the only reason they come to Rotorua is because there is no Rockshop in Taupo, they normally go to Taupo because there is free parking."

Mr Cogger said the new pay-and-display parking machines that had replaced meters in parts of the city were a deterrent for shoppers, especially if it was raining.

"It's [raining heavily] and you can't find the machine. Then, if you're anything like me, it takes two or three goes to figure out what you're meant to do. You get your ticket out, come back to your car and you're dripping wet. It's a really unpleasurable experience. When you come into town, you will notice all the places where the parks have machines are relatively empty compared with the ones with meters."

Free parking in the Rotorua Central Mall was also affecting the situation in town. Mr Cogger said people would often park there then walk into the CBD, but people would only walk so far and it was the businesses in Pukuatua and Eruera Sts that were suffering.

Council chief executive Peter Guerin said they had received a lot of good feedback from local businesses during the 12-day free parking trial.

"It has been very successful. I spent two hours last Monday walking around with our parking officer and I was impressed with how quickly the parking was recycling and how well businesses were responding."

They were looking to report back to the council in February on where to go next with the initiative. "It will go back to normal in the meantime," Mr Guerin said.

McKenzie Country owner Frank Emirali said free parking had brought back some customers he hadn't seen in a long time and he had to thank Mark Rawson, the council's economic and regulatory services group manager, for his efforts in getting the free parking measure introduced.

"I think the retailers and the ratepayers would agree this is the best thing the town has had in a long time. The town has been alive and the public have been good at not abusing the hours. The customers have been more relaxed, the town has been full of vitality and my older customers have been returning - they hate the pay-and-display parking."

Kids Warehouse owner Shiffa Harunani said she had seen a lot more people visit her store since the beginning of the trial.

"It's been great and the people weren't always in such a rush to get out, they could take their time to shop. I thinking having free parking year round would be great - the city was dying without that."

She said some of the retailers had had a meeting with the council to tell it how effective it had been.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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