“After nine months out of work, I got my dream job. The only problem was that there was limited parking around. I took a chance and got caught. Okay, I will pay my fine. But it’s unfair!”
This is not untypical of the emails grizzling about the paucity of free parking in Tauranga’s CBD that come across Martin Parkes’ desk each day. He’s Tauranga City Council’s man in charge of parking – the transportation manager.
“I say free parking, but there’s nothing free in life.”
People regale him with stories about how it used to be. They always parked in a certain spot, it didn’t cost them anything and they could walk to work in three or four minutes. But now someone else has taken their carpark, they’re upset and they grumble to Martin Parkes.
There is still some parking in the CBD – but you have to be up early or you have to pay. “It’s all symptomatic of a vibrant and rapidly growing city,” he says. “There’s a lot more pressure on the parking infrastructure and it will never again be how it used to be.”
This week, The Weekend Sun begins an examination into the most contentious real estate in the city – just six metres by two metres – your average inner city carpark.
Two cars swing into a cul-de-sac off the Strand. Two cars, two commuters - but there’s just one free all-day carpark left in Anson Street.
It’s still dark. Brian Kelly’s telling us the 6:30am news is a couple of minutes away. But it’s already game on. The race is on. This is real life “car-mageddon.”
There’s a winner and a loser, but the outcome of the early morning carpark grab is irrelevant – although the vanquished mopes off up to Cliff Road to pay $2.50 for the privilege of driving a car to work for the day – not to mention having to walk an extra 200 metres.
“People don’t like to pay for parking in Tauranga,” says Martin.
The early morning Anson Street duel was more a salutary warning about the future of cars in the CBD and that entrenched belief in an unalienable right to park where we like, for as long as we like - for nothing.
“Parking is a finite resource and, for everyone’s benefit, it has to be managed properly.” Parkes by name and parking by profession – Martin Parkes, the man with perhaps the most unenviable portfolio at Tauranga City Council.
“I deal with a lot of emotive subjects – parking, congestion, safety,” he explains. And he has to front up to the public and the pesky media on those issues a lot more than he would care to. “Because I am the manager.”
People never remark on what a wonderful job he is doing. “There are not many accolades in this job I am afraid – I’m not going to win popularity contests,” admits Martin.
But he’s slowly trying to win hearts and minds by promoting a sense of community and understanding about parking and perhaps changing some entrenched behaviours.
Because Tauranga loves its cars, and has an unhealthy dependence on them. “Some 97 per cent of all journeys in this city are made by the private motorcar. It’s the worst statistic in New Zealand and it’s not something we should be proud about.
“I just want to achieve the best for the city in my role. I want to make people’s lives easier. I am not here to put barriers in the way and make lives difficult.”
But there is a bigger picture that doesn’t necessarily gel with what some people want. “If I reacted to every email and did what that person wanted, there would be chaos.
“I have to keep focused on making the city economically attractive for people to come and work here and invest.” And to provide a safe balanced transport network.
But first, we, the citizenry, the hoi polloi, have to understand some things. “The days we rocked up to work and parked right outside all day for free are well and truly gone,” says the transportation manager. “We can’t treat parking like we did 15 years ago.”
“We are a vibrant, developing city, the fifth largest in the country, and so the pressure on the parking stock is certainly increasing. There’s a lot happening in town.” More people want to work in town, more businesses are starting up, there are pedestrians and shoppers and there’s construction which brings its own army of people, machinery and vehicles.
“Cars don’t make for a great city - they shouldn’t be the dominant consideration,” says Martin. “They create congestion and pollution, and I can’t think of any great city that’s built around the private motorcar.”
He believes great cities are built around people, and that city centres are places for people, about pedestrians and pedestrian safety.
It’s all to do with the principles of parking management – it’s why Martin Parkes does what he does and it’s more complex than painted parallel white lines.
One of the principles is road safety. “When you have lots of people milling around, you need safe crossing areas. That may mean taking out some parking just so people can cross safely.”
But the main principle is the economic viability of the area being managed – ensuring there’s a high level of vehicle turnover for businesses. The ideal is two-to-three vehicles per space, per hour.
Businesses depend on the turnover of cars through parking spaces and people through their shops.
So if a motorist wants to stay longer, then they should head to the parking buildings. “It’s a difficult message to get across,” says Martin, “that of why we want to charge for parking and why we want to control and restrict the time they spend in a space.”
Tauranga is boosted by one of the most rapidly growing regional economies – and council did foresee signs of the pressure this would bring to its parking stock. In its Long Term Plan, it committed $27 million to parking infrastructure, including a new floor for the Elizabeth Street carpark building and a brand new carpark building in Harington Street.
“But building car spaces is expensive,” says Martin. Each one of the 550 carpark spaces in the new building will cost around $50,000.
“What we have found in the city centre is there are spaces available, but people have to pay for those spaces.
“And that’s where the problem kicks in, because some people just don’t like paying for parking. But in a growing city it’s a necessary evil.” And there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
Parking is not a ratepayer funded activity. It is user pays. So when you pop $2 in the kerbside meter or at the carpark, it helps pay off the loan to build the carpark, the depreciation and the operational costs. “It’s like running a business. We have to meet all the costs.”
Martin Parkes is not preaching from a glass tower with the privileges of many executives. The transport manager doesn’t have a company car or his own carpark. His actually sees the future of the city’s transport from the saddle of his eBike.
“If I cycle to work it means there’s one more car off the road,” he says.
Next week: How you and I can help Martin Parkes and Tauranga’s parking problems.