A proposal to make public transport and public parking free after 6 pm, with a view to encouraging more Canberrans back to the city’s town centres, has been blasted by the ACT Government as “willfully ignorant”.
Opposition spokesperson on business Leanne Castley moved a motion in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday, 11 November, calling on the government to rethink its approach to parking and public transport until March 2022.
She said such a move would encourage more local spending and ultimately contribute to helping the local nighttime economy bounce back from COVID-19.
“Providing free parking and public transport will really help get Canberrans out to enjoy our spring and summer evenings,” said Ms Castley.
However, this view isn’t shared by ACT Minister for Transport and City Services Chris Steel, who amended almost the entirety of Ms Castley’s motion, watering it down to the point it was unrecognisable.
According to the amended motion which passed, the ACT Government will now “continue working with businesses to identify ways to encourage Canberrans into town centres”, including outdoor activation and events.
Mr Steel argued the government had already put in place a range of measures to support businesses throughout COVID-19 lockdown and those proposed by Ms Castley would not achieve what she intended.
He described the motion as “misinformed”, saying the vast majority of car parks in the city and around town centres already have free parking after 5 pm and on weekends.
According to Mr Steel, some areas of paid parking support local businesses because it encourages a higher turnover of patrons.
Furthermore, he said it was not yet wise to encourage “droves of people” back onto public transport given the ongoing risk of COVID-19 transmission in such environments.
ACT Minister for Business and Better Regulation Tara Cheyne was similarly disparaging of the motion, saying while “well intentioned” it was “ill-informed, if not willfully ignorant”.
Ms Cheyne argued the opposition was “literally trying to claim a win for something which already exists” given “the ACT does have a mix of parking arrangements to support a range of activities in different spaces”.
Ms Castley said it is a shame the government hadn’t supported the motion as she’d spoken with businesses who supported the idea.
OTIS Dining Hall owner Damian Brabender was one such business owner who spoke in support of Ms Castley’s motion.
He said one example of the current paid system not working is near his restaurant where one-hour parking spots are paid until 9 pm, requiring patrons to go out and top up the meter in the middle of a dinner, which is “a little bit ridiculous”.
During the ACT’s recent lockdown, parking in government car parks was free for the duration, as was the case in 2020. Paid parking was reinstated on Monday, 1 November, 2021.
The ACT Government has moved to implement a number of initiatives to encourage Canberrans to spend local, including an outdoor activation trial to encourage al fresco dining.
This received mixed responses, particularly on Manuka’s Franklin Street, where some business owners said it was hurting businesses rather than helping. Others welcomed the use of the road for street dining.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr spoke repeatedly during lockdown about his expectations for a v-shaped economic recovery whereby pent-up demand would see Canberrans spend heavily post-lockdown.
Mr Barr said there is evidence from business that this is “already occurring”.