Tried to visit a friend who lives in Auckland's city centre lately? I recommend you take a bus or invite them to your place instead.

Chances are there will be nowhere for you to park.

Along with Auckland's gridlocked roads there is the issue of disappearing parking for inner-city residents. This problem is the result of an anti-car agenda - and its magnitude needs to be recognised and more effectively managed before it gets any worse.

The issue surfaced again when a recent Auckland City report on multi-unit residential parking schemes said they should all be stopped.

The council's transport committee recommended a stay of execution, and a review of multi-unit residential parking schemes again in 2007.

However, like our motorway congestion problem, the demand for car-parking spaces (both private and public) is driven by modern life and is not likely to go away soon.

The squeeze on car parks is part of a bigger picture. It is a response to vocal groups who say the only answer to transport congestion is to increase public transport.

To achieve this, planners are using a carrot-and-stick approach.

The carrot involves promoting a vision of people both living and working in attractive and convenient higher-density buildings within small areas, such as inner-city Auckland.

The stick is to make car ownership harder by reducing the number of residential car parks. The private car then loses much of its convenience and public transport becomes a more realistic option.

The upshot is that short-term, high-cost parking and the roadside are the only parking options for city residents. And they must compete for roadside parking with all the other users of the inner city.

Ironically, the most strident anti-car catchcry - "let's move people, not cars" - comes from individuals living securely in leafy suburbs, who often own more than one family car, have long driveways and lots of off-street parking.

There is no evidence that those living in high-density housing need or want their cars any less than those in leafy suburbs.

Inner-city residents have different parking needs to office workers.

Someone living in the city who is forced to park a long way from their home can be faced with the stark choice of getting from their car to their house with either the groceries or the baby - an easy choice you would think, until you remember the whole point of going out was to get the groceries for the baby.

Among the people squeezed by the anti-car-parking bias are those who have bought, live in and lovingly care for inner-city historic apartments. These buildings were never designed for off-street car-parking.

Residents of these homes often bought them before the current squeeze on roadside parking.

They bought them in good faith, and with the reasonable expectation that they would be able to park a car somewhere in their neighbourhood, for at least some time during the week.

The squeeze also ignores the fact that many who live in the city for its vibrant lifestyle often want to work or play elsewhere, and need a car to get there.

Could we leave the question of parking up to the market?

Arguments in favour of this go along the lines of, "It's a case of buyer beware. People who buy or live in the city know parking is something they need to sort out". But this sentiment sidesteps the issue rather than dealing with it.

Until public transport improves dramatically, reducing car parking is a strategy intended to lower ordinary New Zealanders' expectation of car ownership. It means forcing a very real drop in their standard and quality of living.

We all want better public transport but are the current parking policies anti-car ownership, rather than pro-public transport? What are the differences between the two approaches? What will the effects be for inner-city Auckland if public transport continues to fail to deliver convenience and flexibility, and people decide they want to retain their cars more than living in the planners' vision?

If the inner-city residential population grows without adequate off-street car parking, a very real question will be whether the city council wants street parking provided to transient parkers and commuters in preference to inner-city residents.

We have already gone beyond being able to supply car parks for everyone in the city. And we probably do not need to.

What needs to be established is a sound evaluation of future parking needs and a sustainable system of reasonable and fair right of access to public parking.

* Julie Chambers is a member of the Hobson Community Board.

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