Is charging for parking un-Australian?

We came across a great opinion piece on this week that explored the issue of paid parking being introduced into some of Brisbane’s largest shopping malls, generating significant debate and outcry in the Sunshine State (see our previous post here). According to the Secretary of the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association in Queensland, Chris Ketter, it’s un-Australian to charge workers to park their cars when they’re going to their places of employment.

According to Crikey, the position taken by Westfield has been to preserve and protect their parking spaces for their customers by providing free parking for three hours and then applying an increasing sliding scale of charges to stop commuters parking in their car park all day to take advantage of the nearby park-and-ride public transport service.

So who should pay? We quote from Alan Davies and the Crikey article:

Why shouldn’t (the employees) pay their own way? After all, many workers don’t get free parking. They commute by public transport at their own expense, or fork out from their own pockets for parking. I know some workers who enjoy “free” parking, but it’s paid by their employer, essentially as part of their remuneration.

So why shouldn’t the retailers pay? They’re the ones who employ the workers directly and who need to be able to attract and retain quality staff. They’d probably respond by saying they can get the staff they need without having to pay employee travel costs.

Apart from paying up, the other option for workers is public transport. As I understand it there’re reasonably good services to the CBD from Chermside and Carindale. The vast bulk of suburban retail workers however are likely to live within the region, so Brisbane City Council (the bus operator) would need to ensure local feeder services are adequate.

The idea that parking charges could be plausibly portrayed as “un-Australian” shows just how deeply ingrained the right to drive is in our national psyche. But as parking theory and the understanding of how the dynamics of the market continues to improve, it’s clear that free parking isn’t good for anyone – providing incentives to drive, increasing traffic, capitalising transportation budgets for infrastructure that could better be spent on people and public transport, and with negative environmental impacts.

So is there one answer? Alan Davies recommends that the local Council should be thinking about asking Westfield and the retailers to contribute to the cost of improving those public transport services.

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