A trial offering free parking in Tauranga's CBD to help reinvigorate the local economy will now continue to Easter.
Tauranga City Council has unanimously voted to extend two-hour free parking to April, despite a 396 per cent spike in people being fined for overstaying their limit in a car park.
At a council Urban Form and Transport Committee meeting today, director of transport Brendan Bisley presented the first update on the trial since it came into effect in July following the Covid-19 lockdown.
The primary objective of the trial was to provide economic stimulus to support recovery from Covid-19, particularly for inner-city retailers, by opening up nearby car parks and making them free for two hours.
However, during August and October 2020 the number of people fined for overstaying in a car park in the CBD was 1016. From March 2019 to February 2020, just 39 people were fined for the same reason.
Already this year, the council has issued $950,000 in parking-related fines. Of this, $650,000 has been paid so far.
However, early evidence suggested the trial was a success.
Bisley said data showed Tauranga CBD spend was back to pre-Covid levels, something that was also reflected at Bayfair Shopping Centre and Tauranga Crossing.
There appeared to have been an adjustment period during the first few weeks, prompting a lot of feedback which has since quietened, he said.
"We think people have become used to it and changed their behaviour."
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.
Councillor Dawn Kiddie said she was aware of businesses that were upset when CBD workers took their customer's parks early on in the trial. This had since been remedied via a registration recognition vehicle which targets people overstaying the time limit.
Councillor Heidi Hughes said she supported extending the trial and noted that her bike was parked downstairs for free and councillor and committee chairman Larry Baldock said the trial was "worthwhile".
Councillor Steve Morris said there were still people who did not realise the trial existed and asked the council to ensure it was proactive in advertising it.
Councillor John Robson said he looked forward to reviewing the trial again in April 2021 "presuming Nanaia doesn't have other plans for what I'm doing for Christmas".
Downtown Tauranga had hoped for an extension.
After the meeting, chairman Brian Berry said the retailer advocacy group had advocated for the trial to continue to after Easter.
"Our preference would've been [for] three hours. We've always asked for that because it allows people to go to the movie or take a long lunch, etc."
However, Berry was "very pleased" at the extension as it gave CBD businesses "a level playing field" compared to satellite shopping centres in the region.
Berry said some CBD workers taking up car parks in the first few weeks created issues but the arrival of the registration recognition vehicle put a stop to that.
Since then, the feedback had been "really good".