By David Schout
A third of all cars parked in inner-Melbourne throughout the Christmas and New Year period used a “free parking” voucher, a level of uptake Lord Mayor Sally Capp said justified its contentious introduction.
Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the vouchers, which were downloaded 157,000 times, successfully encouraged people back into the city during the usually busy period.
Late last year, councillors voted nine to two to introduce free on-street parking from December 1 to January 3 as a way to lure shoppers, especially those wary of using public transport, back into the city to spend their Christmas cash.
Councillors in support of the scheme felt that lingering pandemic anxiety might prevent would-be shoppers from using public transport into the city, and the promise of free parking could ensure those trips were still made.
But the scheme came under fire from some councillors, who said it was completely at odds with council policy.
For several years, the council had looked to push non-essential car trips away from the CBD in a bid to free up space for pedestrians and cyclists.
Town Hall’s 10-year transport strategy, released in 2019, is underpinned by a goal to redistribute space to pedestrians, who make up nine in 10 trips within the Hoddle Grid.
When the free parking move was endorsed in November, councillor Rohan Leppert said it was “hard not to feel like years of hard-won policy is unravelling”.
“I am very concerned that the COVID-induced recession is being used as an argument that the economics of the city have fundamentally changed since the adoption of the Transport Strategy 2030, and that new times call for a temporary car-led recovery,” he said.
But Cr Capp defended the move at the time and has now said the “temporary measure” was a vital move to support struggling businesses.
“We were conscious some people might have felt less inclined to travel to the city via public transport,” she said.
“We are using every option available to help bring people back to the city. This was a successful and well-utilised program to encourage people to return during a crucial time for central city businesses.”
The council surveyed a sample of around 25,000 parked vehicles during the period and found 32 per cent had the free parking voucher displayed.
Voucher scheme on its way
Meanwhile, the council was at work finding new ways to stimulate the central city economy in 2021 and appear set to announce a voucher scheme to drive visitors to restaurants, retail and attractions.
The move would be similar to schemes that cities around the world had already adopted, such as London’s “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme or Singapore’s $100 tourism vouchers.
“We are working on a voucher program to provide a timely cash injection for local businesses to ensure we bring the buzz back to Melbourne,” Cr Capp said.
“We’ve been looking at local and international examples where voucher schemes have been used to encourage consumers to spend in certain industries such as hospitality to support economic recovery.”
The state government budget provided $28 million for a voucher program to attract visitors to regional Victoria, but it does not currently have a voucher program for Melbourne.
“Establishing a voucher program for city businesses could help attract more visitors whether they be local, from regional areas or even interstate. The more people we encourage into the city to spend on dining or shopping helps to keep more Melburnians in jobs,” Cr Capp said.
Inner Melbourne has lost 13.2 per cent of jobs since the start of the pandemic compared to six per cent for the state of Victoria.