Back in the 1960s when the CBD was the shopping centre hub of Shepparton, carparks were full by 9am, not by shoppers but by business owners and staff.
They were the days where it was considered appropriate and fair to park right outside your own place of business and too bad about the needs of customers.
Fortunately, not all business people shared this view.
The Chamber of Commerce of the day realised the problem and approached the Council to introduce meters and timed parks as they had studied the example from Bendigo.
The Council agreed, installed meters and parking officers, and from day one the parks were freed up for shoppers.
Many of the forward–thinking business people were thrilled with the outcome as they knew that ‘customer is king’.
Jump forward to today. There are a significant number of free, untimed parks at the various satellite shopping centres which puts the CBD at a disadvantage from the point of view of attracting customers.
Even with the Pay Stay App it is still an inconvenience and irritant to many people who resent paid parking and even just the hassle of going to a meter to place coins in then return to the car to place the ticket.
Or, alternatively, locating the sign which gives the zone for Pay Stay and then putting the info into your device, and remembering to stop it as you depart the park.
The revenue from parking is sufficient for councils to find it a strong reason to continue with paid parking.
There are some councils that take the view that revenue from parking should not be considered as important income, but rather free parking should become an incentive for people to shop and transact business.
This in-turn ensures the viability of businesses, which means shops are not left vacant, income is earned by landholders, property values remain stable and councils are able to collect the relevant rates.
And, customers have a place to transact business.
In Shepparton, we will soon enjoy free off-street parking in council owned carparks.
This is the first stage of a move that will hopefully see further free zones rolled out in the future.
While it may have been a more popular outcome to have free on–street parking and paid at least this is a move in the right direction.
There will need to be consideration as to the times in the free off–street parks to ensure they are there for shoppers and not taken up by staff.
The Multideck park is also an opportunity which could be better utilised.
This was built and owned by the Shepparton Council, but post amalgamation of councils when administrators were in charge of running the City, the decision was made to sell the asset, a move that was and still is very poor judgement.
It would be a good thing if the council does have the opportunity through a grant to re-purchase the carpark complex which is currently privately owned and operated by CarePark.
There are endless opportunities with this large park right in the CBD.
Think ‘Early Bird’ concessional parking for workers on the top two decks. ‘In before 9am and out after 5pm’ is very successful in other regions with such parks.
The ‘First Two Hours Free’ and then normal rates would be a fantastic incentive for shoppers to use that park.
Maybe even recognising that we live in a time of small cars and large SUVs and so perhaps some of the parks could be realigned to provide small car parks and large car parks as well as parks for people with prams etc.
Another opportunity for such a building is the possibility of running fund raising functions and events on the top deck to capitalise on the great view across Shepparton.
Catering and bathroom facilities would have to be considered, but people with vision and ideas would overcome those shortfalls.
The free parking we enjoyed in December and January just last summer was a huge success by the positive vibe felt in the City.
The most common thread of conversation was ‘feeling less stressed’ when not having to worry about a meter. This was even with the two hour limit in place.
‘More time to shop so had a coffee as well’ was another frequent comment.
Interestingly, at no time was the conversation ‘I couldn’t get a park’ but rather ‘it was harder to get a park’.
That seems to indicate we have parking that at most times is adequate, but time zones need regular review as do the number of disabled and loading zones.
With the forthcoming upgrade of the Maude St Mall, there will be a further increase in CBD parking availability and furthermore, the block of Maude St between High & Vaughan will soon have centre road parking.
This change in that zone will be available after the Fire Station moves.
Flexible and accessible parking and a move towards free parking is a must to ensure the future viability of the CBD and the success of Shepparton as a regional centre.