A monthly breakdown of parking revenue collected by Tauranga City Council after the arrival of Covid-19 in New Zealand has revealed financial losses of up to $255,000 in one month alone.
The figures compare monthly income from the 2019/20 year to the 2018/19 year and display a dramatic drop in April, May and June 2020. Despite this, a free parking trial devised to help struggling CBD retailers has had some success.
The figures, obtained by the Bay of Plenty Times through an official information request, show that overall the shortfall between the two financial years was $758,245.
In April, May and June in 2018/19, the council collected $241,663; $282,707 and $238,726 in parking revenue from parking fees for those months respectively. In those same months in the 2019/20 year, the figures were just $39,815; $27,729 and $122,731.
On March 25, 2020, New Zealand entered alert level 4 lockdown - meaning no one was parking in the CBD which, like many other shopping areas, became a ghost town during that time.
In effort to revitalise the local economy and help struggling retailers, the council trialled free parking in the CBD with a two-hour time limit, which took effect in July.
In November, the council decided to continue the trial until Easter this year after reviewing early evidence indicating the trial had been successful.
Downtown Tauranga chairman Brian Berry said the free parking had a positive impact on local retailers who had mostly recovered from the impact of Covid.
Berry said he would like to see the free CBD parking made permanent, but ideally with a three-hour time limit instead of the existing two. If this was not sustainable, there needed to be a change of perspective from people who viewed parking charges as a revenue gathering scheme, he said.
People needed to change their mindset to one of helping support businesses in light of "the difficulties the CBD has gone through".
Fancy That owner Bill Campbell, who had previously voiced criticism of council's parking efforts, said the trial was "a step in the right direction".
"The parking [trial] is definitely working. We are getting people who haven't come to town before and they're definitely coming to town."
However, Campbell agreed with Berry the time limit should be extended to three hours. Otherwise "we are making it difficult for people to stay".
Campbell said he would also like to see better marketing of the free parking.
Council general manager of infrastructure Nic Johannson said the council had an important role to play in helping the city recover from Covid.
However, the reduction in revenue would reduce the council's net surplus which, in turn, would reduce the council's short-term ability to pay down debt, Johansson said.
"This is a self-funding activity. As long as it remains in surplus overall, there is no need to fund the reduction from other means."
The council was now working on a parking strategy which would address financial sustainability as part of its broader transport goal of ensuring the city was better connected.
Consultation on this would be held from early to mid-2021.
The figures also revealed a drop in revenue gathered through parking fines for the months of April, May and June, 2020.
In 2018/29 the council gained $47,001; $40,729; and $41,450 for those months respectively. In 2019/20, the revenue was just $17,954; $15,049 and $29,471.
At the November council meeting, director of transport Brendan Bisley told elected members and staff data showed Tauranga CBD spend was back to pre-Covid levels.
Bluetooth data showed 91 per cent people of people stayed in the CBD for less than two hours.
Bisley said the trial helped to direct anyone wanting to park for longer than two hours to CBD parking buildings.
Spring St parking building had been running at 100 per cent but this has dropped off in recent weeks, presumably due to the winding up of University of Waikato's activities, and the Elizabeth St parking building was running at 50 to 60 per cent capacity, he said.