First, I'll start by saying there's no parking crisis in Geraldton. It's seriously not hard to find a parking bay in town, the rates are relatively reasonable where there is paid parking, and there's also a good amount of free parking a majority of the time. The car park next to Maccas is usually nearly empty, and even when I ran a lawn mowing business and had a trailer attached to my ute I was usually able to park within walking distance of Woolworths, the Post Office or the banks.
If you want a bay right out the front of every shop you're ever going to visit, your demands are unreasonable and you should stop reading this right now.
But there are a few things Geraldton could do differently or better to help make visiting the CBD a little more enjoyable and a little less stressful.
1. Two Hours of parking is not enough.
Most of the free bays in Geraldton's CBD have a limit of 2 hours. Consider this scenario:
You're heading to meet Jenny for coffee. You decided to meet at the Jaffle Shack at 10am and you get there 15 minutes early at 9:45. She gets there 15 minutes late though, so by the time you've both ordered and sipping on your coffee it's 10:25. You chat for 45 minutes and both head off. It's now 11:10. You walk down to the Post Office to send that letter to Grandma who still doesn't have email or Facebook. You have to queue to buy stamps, so by the time that errand is over it's 11:30. You walk around to Woolies to grab some supplies you needed for the weekend gathering you have planned. You're starting to feel a little more than peckish, so you think to yourself where you might stop for lunch, maybe GoHealth, maybe a Kebab. You glance at your phone to check the time. It's 11:55. CRAP. You've been parked too long. Any decision you make now increases your chance of getting a $75 parking fine. You remember the last parking fine you got a few months ago. "STUFF THAT" you think to yourself. You head home and make a sandwich.
Every day businesses in Geraldton miss out on lots of trade because people rush to get out of their bays before the two hours is up. You can't grab lunch and a movie in two hours. You can't browse for new clothes, window shop the jewellers, get your hair done, and enjoy a dine in lunch in two hours. You can't take the kids to the foreshore playground, then take them out for lunch in two hours.
If you want to attract people in to the city, encourage them to stay there and spend money, then don't put a ridiculous two hour limit on the parking. Mandurah has four hours along their shop riddled foreshore and board walk. I think we should take a leaf out of the book from one of the more successful tourist destinations in WA and increase the time limit in the free bays. It may seem like a good idea making people rush back to their cars allowing others to park. But those "others" would have just parked a little further away, and also could have enjoyed a less rushed shopping experience.
2. Angled parking everywhere
There's two kinds of parking bays; angled bays and stupid bays.
I mean seriously, how much nicer is it to park in front of the post office in those angled bays than the perpendicular ones that were there before? (Shoutout to Brian Taylor)
It's safer, it's quicker, it's easier. There's virtually no downside to angled parking.
Perhaps in some circumstances it may mean a couple of less bays. But have you looked around in Geraldton at the non angled bays? A lot of the time someone has parked in two bays anyway because they lack the ability to parallel park or aim their car. So angled parking would make it easier for the incompetent drivers (of which we have so many) and we would all win because they wouldn't be taking up one and a half bays all the time.
Oh, and don't get me started on people trying to parallel park in Geraldton. I'm pretty sure 90% of you don't even know you're meant to drive in front of the bay and then reverse in. Every day I see people take the parralel parking bay head first, having to drive up on to the footpath, and then back in to the bay. It's a joke to watch. I really don't know how we all passed our driving tests.
And whevenever someone DOES try to parallel park correctly, the person behind them has no idea what they're doing and drives right up their butt, leaving them no room to back into the bay. It would be funny to watch if it wasn't so sad, and didn't happen so often.
Also, the town planners didn't take into account the high percentage of us that own 4x4s. Parralel parking might be a nice idea in Paris where everyone drives Vespas and Fiats the size of toasters. But in the home of the Landcruiser, parking needs to be rethought. Heck, even parents who do school runs drive 200 series landies. And even the most competent drivers of these cars usually takes one look at the parallel parking bays in town and just keeps driving.
If the mall was angled parking, I can tell you most people would be less stressed parking there.
The only people that would be negatively affected by switching to angled parking everywhere would be panel beaters.
3. First hour free in all the paid spots (at least)
I was a participant in the recent community summit, and like 90 odd percent of the people there I voted to keep paid parking because of the income it brings in, helping other useful services that lose money to exist... like libraries and CCTV.
But my vote to keep paid parking wasn't an implicit acceptance that paying for parking is always a good idea.
The world isn't as black and white as many accountants would like us to think. On paper it looks like paid parking generates revenue for the city. But the hidden cost is ... hidden. It's hard to quantify the cost of people who simply won't pay for parking, thus won't stay in town longer than two hours, thus won't spend much money at retailers in town. It's hard to say if that cost to the Geraldton economy is greater than the net gain from the scrap of money the parking generates. I'm not saying it is or isn't greater either way (I haven't done any studies), just that it's hard to quantify.
Many people view paying to park like paying for bottled water. "It's water. It falls from the sky! Why would I pay you $3.95 for a 600 mL bottle of the stuff?! You're crazy?!"
Same with parking spaces. "It's a SPACE. There's nothing there! It's not a building! It's a nothing! I'm not paying for parking!"
To them it would be like Dome charging people for sitting in their chairs. Even if they sold the coffee for $1 and the chair for $3, people would just resent the idea of paying to sit in a chair. Does the chair cost Dome money? Sure does, probably more than the coffee beans and water they heated up and sold you. But they have to build the cost of the chair into the coffee or you'd resent them.
It's the same with parking. I know it costs money in the form of opportunity costs to keep valuable land free for parking. But if the cost of the parking was built into the price of other things, people would park in town more, stay longer and spend more money at local shops. They'd spend a lot more than the $6 you'd get if you charged for parking.
Now the city may be wondering how on earth that would ever make THEIR books look good. Sure, it would benefit all the businesses in town. But the only way the council would see a dime of that is if they were able to charge higher rates.
But here's the thing. If the CBD was thriving, more stores would be built, more premises would exist which would pay rates, and the value of those businesses would be higher too, also affecting the amount of rates charged.
So while it may look good just to charge more for parking and have more money, in the long term I would argue it hurts commerce and ends up hurting rate revenue for the city too. Encouraging growth in town and getting people in there shopping should be a higher priority.
If paid parking made economic sense, then all the shopping centres would charge for parking. But they don't. Why? Because they know the $5 they got for parking would be nothing compared to the massive amount of money they'd lose from everyone who stopped shopping there. You do pay for the parking indirectly. It's factored into the rent that the tenant stores get charged, thus it's factored into anything you buy from a shopping centre. But if you had to pay that $5 parking cost directly, you wouldn't.
I say first hour free at least because I understand if you made all parking free everywhere all the time, you'd simply get workers at all the shops taking all the good bays first thing in the morning. They're not spending money all day, and it would achieve the opposite of what you wanted.
So I'd like to see the paid parking bays converted to at least some free time, so more people are encouraged to duck in to town and do what they need to do. And if they want to stay all day they can pay a small, reasonable fee. And the free bays should (mostly) be lengthened to four hours, long enough to encourage you to spend more time and money in town, but not so long that staff at all the stores take up those bays all day long.
These opinions I have shared should not be taken without consideration of the first paragraph. I really don't think there's a parking crisis. Walking 7 minutes to get to the shop you want shouldn't be the end of the world, and I don't think a multi story car park needs to be built (though Everything Geraldton often gets calls for this). Parking in Gero is definitely a "first world problem" if it is one at all, but in this time of economic downturn where some businesses are doing it tough, it would be good to look at ways to make it easier for tourists and locals alike to be encouraged to frequent our wonderful CBD and foreshore and spend money here rather than online/overseas.
One other argument I often here about there being no need to stimulate spending here is that "you only have $x each week, so it doesn't matter." This argument to me is ridiculous. When I have the choice to buy something locally or online, I would much rather get it locally because I want it now and don't want to wait. If it's too hard to get to the store, or the store won't open during hours that are convenient to me, or if the item doesn't exist locally, maybe then I will buy it online. So the amount of money I have to spend locally is very much a variable thing. And the more I spend locally > the more profitable local businesses are > the more jobs are created locally > the more money other people are able to spend locally > and the cycle of growth continues.
Planned parking changes
Making it as convenient as possible for people to keep their money spent locally through things like better parking policies should be a priority. Any thought of adding parking meters or making parking more inhibitive in the city limits would be a bad idea at the moment.
It appears there are changes on the horizon for parking in Geraldton, but we're unclear about what they might be.
We've heard through the MWCCI about an upcoming forum on parking. We reached out to the City for information and they sent us the following:
You are invited to attend a forum on City Centre Car Parking
Date: Monday 4 May 2015
Location: City of Greater Geraldton, Cathedral Avenue – Function Room
The items for discussion with a short brief on each as follows:
• Planned carparking provision changes relevant to CBD development as part of the new TP Scheme being drafted
• The City carparking strategy – items implemented and those planned in the medium term
• Advice on whether on-street car parking meters or charging is being contemplated by the City;
• Q & A session
RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org
We have been advised that the parking forum at the City of Greater Geraldton is not open to the general public, only members of the Mid West Chamber of Commerce.