Like cockroaches, the vexed question of on-street parking is ubiquitous and irritating in every city in the world. Not enough of it; too expensive; the two-hour time-slot is too short (for a movie or a good lunch). Or the fines are too punitive and just a cash cow. It seems to be a universal problem wherever people travel by car to the heart of a city.
The real problem is, of course, somewhat different. The reality is that there are simply too many people trying to bring too many cars into high-demand areas and wanting to do it at much the same time of day, regardless of what else is going on.
Newcastle Now has been a long-term advocate for changes to the way parking is managed in the city centre. In 2014, we worked with the council to complete an external study on the issue. It found most individuals visiting the city centre use their cars to do so and more than a quarter stay for more than eight hours. Most respondents found a parking space in fewer than five minutes, and could park within a five-minute walk from their destination.
There seems to have been a shift in parking demand from shoppers or recreational visitors as major users to the main users being workers looking for long-stay spaces. Shoppers seem more attracted to suburban shopping malls where supply is convenient and the cost for short-term parking is less.
In the city centre, mid to long-term parking (4-8 hours) is in high demand, reducing vacancies for shoppers, clients and recreational visitors. Combined with the feeling that parking fees are too high, this is diverting shoppers and recreational visitors elsewhere.
As a result, we heartily congratulate the state government, the council and the university for their park and ride initiatives (google Newcastle Park and Ride for details). It’s a great start but the job isn’t over - by the number of cranes looming above the city, the issue will be with us for a while.
We need short and long-term strategies to free up spaces for our customers and visitors. This calls for a concerted effort by business to encourage staff to use the park and ride option or public transport. We need the first thee hours of parking to be charged at a minimum rate, increasing significantly over time to encourage ‘parking churn’ so people who need more than three hours will seek a long-term parking area. We need a consistent approach to pricing throughout the city and surrounding suburbs, so the challenges are not just pushed elsewhere; and we need spaces that are under-utilised during the week to be freed up for worker parking (such as No 1 Sportsground).
Newcastle Now also argues that parking should not be seen as a revenue source but instead as a tool to help influence parking behaviour. We would therefore like to see income from parking reinvested back into community assets and amenities as people would be more accepting of paid parking if they can see where their money is going.
Smart parking seems to be the way for the future and we support the moves being made there, but we still need helpful interim approaches during the period of road closures to open the city centre for visitors to enjoy easily, particularly in the pre-Christmas and holiday periods.
To quote Billy Connolly, “I don't believe in angels, no. But I do have a wee parking angel. It's on my dashboard and you wind it up. The wings flap and it's supposed to give you a parking space. It's worked so far.”