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  • Crispin Till

    Email Crispin Till

    Council defends car parking changes as community debate rages on


    A city loop bus is off the agenda, so what's the answer to congestion and a lack of car parking spaces in Cairns' CBD?

    This week's decision to not provide a city loop bus because of the costs involved have added to community frustration, with Cairns Regional Council's major shake-up of car parking in the CBD being a hot topic since the changes were announced last month.

    The changes are due to come into effect on 1 January 2018 and include extra car parks, as well as increases in charges and fines and the extension of regulated parking to 8.30am to 6pm seven days a week.

    Works on the first of 350 new centre median car parks have started in Lake St and the rest will be rolled out in coming months around Cairns Hospital and Cairns Private Hospital.

    While the council has defended the changes, the first since 2012, there is ongoing anger with many labelling the move a "money grab" that will not improve parking and actually stop people from driving into the city.

    So what's the answer?

    The council has said it's continuing to look at options to reduce traffic and encourage the use of public transport in the city centre and has told TropicNow it will trial sensors, real-time signage, parking apps and sustainable transport options to make it easier for people to find a car park in the CBD.

    The new technologies will be trialled in Sheridan St and council described the transport options as "making it easier" to visit the CBD without having to drive into the city, but provided no further details about the timing of the trial.

    REPORTS, INVESTIGATIONS AND AUDITS

    Council has defended the controversial shake-up, with a spokesperson saying the changes were made after regular car park audits, reports into usage and investigations into how other local government areas handle car parking.

    “This is the first time in five years that council has increased parking fees or fines,” the spokesperson said.

    “Council has been conducting regular audits of car parking over many years and has commissioned reports from third parties into traffic flow and parking usage.

    “This is enhanced by data from council's Licence Plate Recognition system, ticket machines and sensors.

    “Council did extensive benchmarking against other Local Government areas including investigating how those cities handle car parking before making the changes.”

    ON-STREET AND OFF-STREET PARKING

    About 2,200 on-street car parks will be affected by the changes, as well as off-street car parks that charge by the hour, including the Southern Esplanade car park.

    The Hartley St and Bunda St car parks, which operate on a daily rate, will stay at the current price of $3 and $2 respectively and 900 centre median parks will remain free.

    DEBATE RAGES ON

    Debate around council's decision continues to draw fire with responses to the shake-up filling up TropicNow's Facebook page faster than business hours parking in the CBD.

    The changes have been supported by Parking Australia, the group representing the interests of the parking industry nationally.

    But the people who struggle to find a spare space every day for work or when trying to enjoy a relaxing weekend in the city are not convinced the changes are warranted and have been venting their anger online.

    Many claim they will no longer visit the CBD, particularly on weekends, while those who need to park in the CBD fear the changes will hit their weekly budget and the lack of a suitable and reliable public transport system has not been taken into account.

    “Cairns is a seven-day-a-week city,” the spokesperson said.

    “We've heard from visitors and businesses that finding a car park on the weekend is very difficult.

    “Extending the hours of regulation ensures a turnover of vehicles during these times when people have the time to come into town to shop and dine.”

    INVESTING IN THE FUTURE

    Council also denied that increasing fees and fines is a “money grab” and the spokesperson said this revenue was reinvested into parking infrastructure and to cover operating and maintenance costs.

    “In the past five years, council has invested more than $8.5 million to improve parking in and around the CBD,” the spokesperson said.

    “This includes a Licence Plate Recognition system that makes it more efficient to enforce car parking turnover in the city; upgrading parking ticket machines to accept credit card payments; and creating a further 450 parking bays.

    “The Lake Street multi-storey car park upgrade is a further example of how parking revenue is used to improve car parking in the city.”

    The car park is undergoing a $5.9 million upgrade and is expected to re-open at the start of 2018.