We're not yet at the stage where downtown Invercargill's kerbside meters will be useful only as walking-stick supports for the occasional late-night drunk.
But fewer people are using them for the intended purpose.
Revenue has fallen sharply. Fines income has slid, spectacularly, from $708,000 in 2010 to $336,000 for the year ended June 30 and you can't really say it's because of more diligent meter-feeding.
There's been a bit of that and there's also evidence more motorists are taking their business elsewhere, to off-street parking facilities.
But the word from the Invercargill City Council parking meter staff is that fewer people are parking in the central business district overall. Bus patronage into and out of the city centre has been down, too.
All of which is likely to be a talking point in the wee shop in the Cambridge Place arcade where consultants and council staff have set up to talk to people about the inner-city upgrade.
Few deny that the downtown sorely needs upgrading. The contention has been about the detail. The plan is now proceeding piecemeal in what the council hopes will be more digestible, and agreeable, bits.
The Cambridge Place centre can be only a smallish part of the more ardent consultation agenda.
They've also got to reach the people who aren't to be found downtown, whether it's because they're finding suburban shops meet most of their needs, or because they're just not spending in spite of the reports of economic optimism, or because they're embracing online shopping.
Significantly, the council has decided it will no longer collect money for the Vibrant Invercargill group - that $80,000 will instead be diverted elsewhere within the inner-city rejuvenation agenda, though exactly how still seems undecided.
In any case, the health of the inner city relies on more than environmental improvements. The standard of service from store staff will always be crucial. No amount of seating, parking, shelter and pocket parks pleasures will suffice if the stores aren't staffed by sufficiently trained, motivated and resourced personnel. Just saying.
- The Southland Times
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