IT’S six months into Vincent council’s trial to abolish first hour-free parking, and small business owners are saying it’s had a brutal impact.
Last year a majority of Vincent councillors voted to end the long-running first hour free parking in its main off-street carparks, and started charging $1 for the first hour and $3.20 for every hour after that (“Paid parking backlash,” Voice, July 8, 2022).
It was partly done to avoid having to increase rates, and council staff estimated it’d earn them at least a million dollars a year in revenue per year.
But six months in and revenue’s half of the low end of what they predicted, only just hitting $250,000.
There’s also been 50,000 fewer car visits in that time, a drop of about 16 per cent.
A staff report describing this as a “slight” reduction recommends councillors vote to keep charging for the first hour.
The report says consumer spending is growing in Mount Hawthorn, Leederville, and North Perth, and only seems to be lower in Mount Lawley.
But some stalwart business owners who’ve borne the brunt of that “slight” reduction dispute the claim that spending is growing.
“That’s rubbish, it’s not happening. I can tell you from my own business’s experience,” Greg Johnson from Mount Hawthorn’s Tredways told us.
“I have grave concerns, and so do a lot of small business people who’ve contacted me since [the paid parking trial] first came up.
“If the council doesn’t respond positively I can see this becoming a much bigger issue. It’s not going to become as big an issue as it is in Israel or in France, but it’s going to be big. Businesses are fed up with not being listened to.”
At the March 28 council briefing Mr Johnson held up images of free parking signs in other suburbs, saying Vincent had given away its “competitive advantage” to places like Subiaco which still had free parking periods.
“You gave it away – we want it back, we want it back. We don’t want our businesses destroyed.
Shawn Offer is director of Fresh Provisions in Mount Lawley, and told councillors that losing the first hour free parking was “making conditions so much harder for our business than they need to be at the moment”.
He estimates they’ve lost 15,000 customers across the six-month period.
“We’re losing 300 people a week out of that carpark at the moment.”
Heavy hitter property investor Gerard O’Brien also spoke at the briefing and presented a nuclear option if the council didn’t restore free parking. His company Silverleaf Investments owns the Alexander Building at the corner of Walcott and Beaufort Street, and for 30 years the company has leased land to the council providing roughly 35 extra carbays.
He said under that agreement the council must give Silverleaf at least one month’s notice if it ever wanted to charge a fee for parking there, which he says they failed to do, “and if agreement is not reached this deed will end”.
Mr O’Brien said his tenants were suffering due to the paid parking introduction and he’d pull out of the deal if the first hour free wasn’t reinstated.
“We will not support you charging for this,” he said.
“You’re destroying our tenants for no net gain,” Mr O’Brien said, pointing out they’d lose far more in rates if those businesses closed down.
“These people provide a great amenity to Mount Lawley, and you’ll end up with just vacant buildings with a carpark that commuters might use going to Perth.”
Councillors vote on whether to continue the trial at the April 4 council meeting.
Councillor Ron Alexander, who last year voted against the new fee along with Crs Ross Ioppolo and Suzanne Worner, said they should end the trial immediately.
“I think it’s a disastrous road that we’ve taken and I’ll just foreshadow that I’ll be proposing an amendment next week to see the first hour free reinstated as soon as possible,” Cr Alexander said.
by DAVID BELL