Shoppers' parking gain is commuters' loss

Hamilton's Christmas shoppers get an early present tomorrow with the city's two largest parking buildings offering two hours parking free.

But that will cost commuters, who face a 50 per cent hike in fees.

The two hours free parking will apply seven days a week until January 6 at the Garden Place underground car park, while stays over four hours will climb from $10 to $15. For the same period the city council will halve its Knox St fees for commuters to $3 for longer than four hours.

City infrastructure general manager Chris Allen said the intention was to get commuters out of the underground car park to free up spaces for Christmas shoppers.

From early January the free period will drop to one hour while staff will have the power to adjust commuter rates anywhere between $5 and $15 for longer than four hours.

Mr Allen yesterday told the council pricing was "a big lever" to prise commuters out of the Garden Place car park, which the council will sell next year to mall owner Kiwi Income Property Trust. A condition of the deal is that the council set pricing to discourage commuters.

While Mr Allen pitched commuters as the reasons shoppers could not find car parks, the number of permanent and reserve cardholders has more than doubled to 53 per cent of users since June 2010, and he confirmed he will come back to the council with options for those users.

The city's Knox St building had plenty of unused capacity for commuters, he said.

Several councillors criticised the changes. Councillor Dave Macpherson said the staff proposal was "decision-making on the hoof".

"This is not good-decision making. The business plan was written on the back of an envelope or a pile of notes over there. I saw them pull it out," he said.

City workers are also biting back, saying the council is biting the hand that feeds it, and that parking costs already led them out of the city.

Hamilton resident Brian Cathro said although he got a free park at his workplace, many of his colleagues did not, and they would not be pleased with the changes.

"I think that is quite a narrow-minded view. They're just not with the times," he said.

"[Shoppers] can go five minutes down the road and park for free."

Mr Cathro said the council should focus its energy on making the central business district more inviting. He much preferrred shopping at The Base, where he could park for free for as long as he wished and entertain the kids in the play areas. "It's such a better experience," he said.

Meanwhile, city worker Lisa Williams said she had recently stopped parking in the Garden Place underground car park while at work as it is already too expensive at $10.

When councillors proposed changes at yesterday's council meeting, staff were forced to calculate the likely cost of them on the run.

The free parking agreement is expected to cost the city about $80,000 a year in lost revenue.

Staff expected to offset some of those losses from extra revenue from long-term parkers.

Waikato Times