What to do if you can't park at work

16:00, Mar 15 2013

It seems nothing revs up the engines of New Zealanders like the indignity of having a tax slapped on their parking spaces.

A Government proposal, which is being fought tooth and nail by the FBT (fringe benefit tax) Action Group, would extend a tax of almost 50 per cent to employer-provided parks in the Wellington and Auckland CBDs.

While the campaign itself is being driven by a very well-oiled PR machine, the genuine public response has been fierce.

If the tax goes ahead, employees will almost certainly be forced to pay more for parking to cover the expenses, or look for a spot elsewhere.

Employer-provided parking in the Auckland and Wellington CBDs and fringes falls in the range of roughly $2,000 to $4,000 a year, most often taken out of the total salary package.

The extra tax could blow those costs out to roughly $3,000 to $6,000 a year.

Big companies often lease out sections of parking buildings for their staff, but the extra compliance costs and tax imposed may be enough of a disincentive to ditch them.

Alternatively, they'll pass the costs on to employees. Either way, no-one's happy except the taxman.

Legislators probably have their fingers crossed that the tax will encourage public transport use. The worst case scenario would be hordes of annoyed drivers clogging up the city streets and circling endlessly for a park.

An analysis of sixteen parking studies over the last century found that around a third of inner city congestion is caused by this very phenomenon.

If workplace parking does become unattractive, what are the alternatives for determined drivers?

Kicking it to the Curb

Council-operated casual street parking is totally out of the question if you're commuting to the CBDs of Wellington or Auckland during normal business hours.

Recent changes mean you're allowed to park on Auckland streets all day without having to dash out and wipe the chalk of your tire every couple of hours.

The Christchurch City Council has also introduced all day metered parking to help support regeneration.

The daily fee ranges from $3-$7 in the garden city, meaning there is little incentive to hunt elsewhere if you can find a spot on-street.

But you'll pay through the nose in the other centres.

It would take a jingling pocket full of $42 to $52 of loose change to park up for a standard eight-hour shift in most parts of central Auckland, and $24 to $32 in the Wellington CBD.

Over the course of a year, you could be feeding anywhere from $6,250 to $14,000 into the meter- completely unaffordable, and clearly not what street parking is designed for.

Going Underground

Parking buildings, garages or lots usually provide some kind of security to protect your precious wheels, as well as a lower daily fee.

Auckland Transport runs several parking buildings which are $11-$13 for the day if you get in early enough in the morning.

That nudges out Wellington's facilities, where the only Council car park you can stay parked in all day charges $15.

Most Council facilities in Christchurch are still closed.

In all three cities, the duopoly of commercial operators Wilson and Tournament parking also offer plenty of parking lots, which charge $10-$16 a day for early birds.

That works out to about $2,600 -$4,150 a year, which is not too shabby.

Drive a few blocks further out in Christchurch and the price drops to $3 a day.

But it's only the early bird that gets the worm, at least at prime spots. If you can't haul yourself out of bed on a cold winter morning, the fees suddenly become far more painful.

Casual rates in the heart of the cities are eye-poppingly high -as much as $7 per half hour- and roughly on par with street parking prices in less popular spots.

Clipping Coupons

Compact Wellington has a clever coupon system for drivers snagging a park on the outskirts of town.

A daily coupon costs $7.50 and a month sets you back $120. It might be a bit of a stroll to work, but it saves a packet.

Coupon parking works out to a mere $1,440 a year, our best offer so far. The equivalent for Aucklanders is to try and find a park down a side-street in a suburb somewhere in walking distance of the city.

Rent a Driveway

One of the most interesting developments in congested cities overseas is the rise of websites like the US-based Parking Panda and the UK's ParkatmyHouse.com.

These sites let private citizens to hawk their driveways, garages or carport to commuters sick of circling for parks in or around the city centres.

In New Zealand you're much more likely to see a hand-written sign saying "Carpark 4 Rent", but city-slickers here can make some money too.

There are a scattering of private listings on the likes of Sella and Trade Me, as well as on website Sharedspace.

Founder and director Matt Knight says the practice is becoming more popular, but its mainly limited to apartment dwellers cashing in on their spare parks.

"I certainly see it growing in the CBD, at least in Auckland, but from a driveway or house perspective it isn't that large."

He says there's enough free parking in most suburbs to meet demand, but it depends entirely on the specific area.

"In one end of Parnell, I know there certainly wouldn't be any demand at all, but on the other end, there is. If someone listed their driveway or garage there, that would have some traction."

Wellington resident Xiaoling Guo has been successfully renting out the garage of her Mount Cook rental property for $40 a week.

She says it's a good source of extra income, and some of her friends in other city fringe areas are doing the same thing.

"Because Wellington's quite small, people want to try to reduce to try the amount they pay for carparks, so sometimes they're willing to park at the city fringe."

Auckland prices for private parks ranged from $40- $60 per week right in the heart of the CBD, to $20-$30 listings in suburbs like Grey Lynn and Newton.

Wellington prices ranged from $25 to $40 a week.

That means a private carpark could cost anywhere from $1,300 to $3,100 a year- a very affordable option which removes all the hassle of having to find a spot in a packed parking lot.

Paying the Taxman

One Aucklander renting out a spare carpark at her apartment was keen to talk, but not to use her name.

That's because she didn't want to draw the attention of Inland Revenue.

While you might get away with dodging tax by using word-of-mouth arrangements, its likely that the taxman has his beady eye on any publicly listed advertisements.

An IRD spokesperson confirmed that any activity in this area is monitored as part of a broader compliance programme.

He said people are liable to pay tax on any income derived from land use- in this case, leasing or renting a car park.

That means you'd have to declare the income on your tax return, and will lose as much as a third of it to the government tax coffers.

Nevertheless, renting out a spare park might well be worth it- both for you, and for commuters who've had enough of wasting time and money circling round the parking lot.