Editorial: Parking policies need careful balancing

Last updated 12:22 17/02/2014

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The jump in parking revenue from central Nelson can be examined through many lenses.

The Nelson City Council's contracting out of parking operations last October has seen a 26 per cent rise in income from parking fees and tickets in the past four months compared to the same period a year ago, when the council had its own parking officers. That includes about 300 extra tickets issued.

A council spokeswoman says the new staff have shown "new energy". They have also apparently shown a "positive, proactive level of interaction with the community", whatever that means.

From one viewpoint, the increased revenue is a welcome boost for the council's coffers, particularly as parking revenue slumped 22 per cent against budget earlier last year. That led councillors to question whether the resignation of three council parking officers - for unknown reasons - last May had led to the drop, or whether fewer people were coming into the city to shop.

Another view is that the diligent new contractors are being overzealous.

In Wellington, the city council has decided to bring its parking operations back in-house, amid criticism of its contractors' high ticketing rates. The Automobile Association has applauded the move, saying the contracting out of the service "incentivised ticketing".

There is a fine balance in getting parking operations right.

Charging too much or enforcing infringements too militantly can dissuade motorists from coming into the city. Not having enough enforcement can see city workers parking all day, clogging up spaces needed for shoppers or other short-term visitors.

There is no evidence to suggest that the $1 an hour charge in central Nelson is too high - it's less than the $1.50 charged in Palmerston North, for example, and the up to $4 an hour in central Auckland and Wellington.

In Richmond, parking is free but has time limits. However, that loss of revenue means the Tasman District Council has to make it up elsewhere - effectively through rates or charges.

Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese has signalled that she is tempted to look at a free system, as the council is about to embark on a review of its parking strategy. But she acknowledges that someone has to pay for car parks, either through rates or parking fees.

In the meantime, the council needs to curb a perception that the energetic new parking contractors are overzealous, and look at other incentives for visitors to come into the central business district.

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An expansion of the free parking Tuesdays during winter will be in the mix, as should a suggestion that parking is linked to shopping, with a purchase allowing a free stay.

The mayor is also open to looking at new technology, including pay-as-you-leave barrier systems for the city's parking squares.

One puzzling aspect of the debate is the claim that Richmond's free parking alone attracts Nelson shoppers. That does not add up because the cost, and time, of a return trip to Richmond outweighs the $1 an hour charge in central Nelson.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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