Community split regarding parking concerns

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TRANSPARENCY NEEDED… From left, Fryers Food Store owner, Ingrid Thomas, JB Jewellers owner, Jacek Szczurek and Dotz for Kidz owner, Judy Beckingham are calling for a review of CBD parking. Photo: Katelyn Morse.

FOLLOWING a council review at the beginning of the year, new parking inspectors have been deployed throughout Greater Shepparton and locals are being encouraged to ensure they are sticking to the rules.

The previous four council-employed parking inspectors ended their service at the start of June and interim arrangements have been organised following council putting a contract out for tender for the service.

Reports of strict enforcement from the new parking officers are circulating the community, with many concerned that harsh penalisations could be hurting business in the CBD.

According to comments from sources close to The Adviser and comments posted to Shepparton Silent No More Facebook page, parking officers in Shepparton have been issuing fines to customers while they collect change for parking, for tickets that had fallen down, or for tickets that were as little as two minutes over time. There have also been allegations of officers tag-teaming parking spots in certain zones.

However, many of those complaining are taking their fines to council to be challenged and some are getting them successfully revoked.

Owner of JB Jewellers, Jacek Szczurek, says he has been witness to some of the strict enforcement on Maude Street on the south side of the mall and worries that harsh penalties are drawing business away from the CBD toward the shopping centres out of town with free parking.

“We had two customers get fined in one day recently,” Jacek said. “An elderly farmer from Euroa, where there are no parking restrictions, was getting change from us at our store when he got booked just after 9am. He had barely been in the park for five minutes.”

On the other side of Maude Street, a few vendors along Fryers Street are similarly frustrated with stringent enforcement.

Judy Beckingham, owner of Dotz for Kidz in Fryers Street, says that her business receives a lot of special needs customers from areas as far as Deniliquin, Echuca, Rochester and Wangaratta who aren’t aware of the multi-deck car park. She says due to the nature of her work, customers’ appointments can take up to an hour and the curse of the car parks always affects her business.

“I encourage people to stop and browse but customers have got their hand out looking at the time and it takes away from the relaxed shopping environment. Country people are used to that relaxed feeling when they shop,” Judy explained.

“Having been in retail in Shepparton for 45 years, we’ve seen a lot of change and really watched the CBD decline. Council needs to be more transparent, talk to everybody and have an open discussion.”

Judy will often recommend her customers grab a coffee from Fryers Street Food Store across the road. Ingrid Thomas, the owner of Fryers Street Food Store, says that there needs to be more options for free, timed parking close to the CBD.

“We need to have more options for two, three, four and five hour free parking close to the CBD, not the all-day free parking options that are currently being utilised by workers,” Ingrid said.

A lot of the free parking areas close to the CBD, such as the dedicated all-day zone on the corner of Maude Street and Nixon Street, are usually all taken up by city workers by 8am. There needs to be a discussion around opening up these areas to more staggered timed, free parking areas.

“We are also a local business that proudly employs local people and despite their efforts to promote local, I’m surprised council has outsourced parking to non-locals,” Ingrid said. “It’s upsetting that council has outsourced the work to non-locals.”

Despite the frustrations, businesses in the CBD are being reminded that without parking officers and strict parking times, there would be no space at all in the CBD for shoppers, as many of the parks would be grabbed for all-day parking by workers.

The community is also being encouraged to download and use the PayStay mobile phone app, for ease of use and to save money on parking. The app is really easy to use but requires a debit card. Using the app, parkers only pay for the time they have used, as it deducts funds from the exact time arrived and leave time you specify.

However, not everyone has access to a smart phone to utilise the app and those members of the community will need to continue carrying coins to ensure they are covered when they park in the CBD.

According to council acting director of corporate services, Laurienne Winbanks, the officers are undertaking their duties in accordance with legislation.

“Tag teaming does not occur as it is illegal for one officer to mark up a vehicle and the other to issue a ticket. We have had one officer being trained in the field though, which may have given this impression,” she said.

“We encourage our community to download the PayStay app to ensure that you can pay for your parking conveniently and to ensure you only have to pay for what you use.

“There is sufficient signage to ascertain the zone you are parking in and once you have parked your car to immediately start a session while you are at the vehicle.”

The change in local parking comes at a time when external parking contractors are being watched closely in Victoria following The City of Kingston and Monash Council being required to repay millions of dollars to motorists after it was found that their fines were illegally reviewed by external parking contractor, Tenix Solutions.

Due to the costly mistake, the Victorian Ombudsman is set to launch a broad investigation into the use of third-party parking contractors in councils across the state.

For further information about parking in the Greater Shepparton, including the locations of all day and extended hour parking sites near to the city, visit www.greatershepparton.com.au/council/parking-enforcement