Doubt on council green credentials

The City of Melbourne’s environmental credentials have been called into question over the way it has handled a review of its treatment of the share-car industry.

After three years successfully nurturing three start-up share-car companies, councillors are facing a difficult dilemma – how much should they subsidise private enterprises which result in a green outcome?

At their Future Melbourne Committee meeting on July 14, all but one councillor voted to disappoint share-car industry representatives and customers.

The matter is coming before the full council on July 28 (after publication of the August CBD News), so positions might change.

But, if they don’t, councillors have been told that they will be damaging the future expansion of the share car phenomenon.

Representatives of Melbourne’s car share operators told councillors that the city’s conditions surrounding giving up a further 390 valuable on-street parking spaces to accommodate share car growth was inconsistent with the council’s transport policies.

They said both a proposed modified fee structure and a requirement that they must first source two private spaces from commercial operators before being eligible for an on-street council space would damage their businesses and, in one case, send them broke.

Flexi Car’s Greg Giraud argued that the “two-for-one” policy was unrealistic and that a suggestion that car share companies should compensate council for forgone parking revenue was “absurd”.

“Rail, bus, tramway and taxi operators do not pay rates for their use of public land,”
he said.

“Tonight you are not just voting on the future of car share in the City of Melbourne, you are voting on the threat of an additional 16,000 residential vehicles by 2021.”

Sahil Bhasin, of Green Share Car, said: “Your decision tonight could force us to cease our operations entirely.”

Mr Bhasin predicted that if the car share issue was handled within a sustainability council department and not within engineering, as is the case at Melbourne, there would have been a different recommendation to councillors.

“Engineering services is in charge of parking meter revenue,” he said. “This service should fall within sustainability, who would have a completely different view of the actual tangible outcomes of this service.”

He said his business was losing $180,000 per year on the car share scheme.

Go Get’s Justin Passaportis said any loss of parking revenue would more than be made up via increased social and economic benefit.  He pointed out that should the scheme successfully expand within Melbourne to 2000 vehicles by 2021, the net economic benefit would be at least $45 million.

“Why should local residents who choose to give up their cars and share instead be penalised by additional charges effectively imposed by their own council?” he asked.

Cr Stephen Mayne was the only councillor to vote against a slightly modified motion before the committee, saying he’d been extremely impressed by the arguments put forward by the industry and its supporters.

“People may be irritated about the way the submissions were presented, but we are moving the goal posts here in terms of the business model,” he said.

“In the context of $107 million a year in parking … three or four hundred thousand a year is not material.  And then you consider we have record residential growth. There is a massive pipeline of towers going up and we need to think about that and get ahead of the curve.”

“I’m chair of finance and I think we should stop being addicted to parking revenue. We are driven by revenue defence,” he said.

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle said the council supported the industry, but said the argument was about what was an appropriate subsidy.

“This is argument about at what level should we subsidise this industry,” he said. “Where is the appropriate level where we balance the social good against the cost to the taxpayer?”

He said the successful motion meant an annual council subsidy of about $600,000.

For Cr Richard Foster, however, even this amount of subsidy was a stretch.

“In the end, local government does not subsidise for-profit private enterprises,” he said.

“I don’t know why we would go out of our way to support a profit-making commercial enterprise to the extent that is being suggested.”

Environment chair, Cr Arron Wood, said the right level of subsidy had been reached.

“It strikes the right balance,” he said.  “At the end of the day we are giving over public real estate as a result of this and there is a lot of demand for that real estate.”

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