Fallout from the commuter car park program
By Stuart Norman, CEO Parking Australia
In light of the fallout from the Auditor General’s report into the federal government’s commuter car park program, one key aspect has been lost. That being, this is the first time a federal government have acknowledged (with funding) that parking matters to people.
With more than 17.5 million registered passenger and light commercial vehicles in the country, it is clear that parking is a bread-and-butter issue for most Australians, especially those who live in our capital and major regional cities. Elected representatives at all levels of government regularly receive correspondence from constituents about parking in their local areas.
While many will rightly question the locations and the merit of the commuter car park program, it is clear that the program resonated with the electorate prior to the last election. Not only did it identify a local issue, it also demonstrated that candidates were attuned to the needs of their electorate. As such, it is difficult to see either side of politics now abandoning the concept because parking and congestion is something that matters to the electorate.
What has been overlooked is that the rationale behind the failed commuter car park program is sound. It encourages people to drive to their local train station and use public transport, thus reducing congestion and emissions. It addresses the first mile/last mile issue for many and while there are some who say that commuters should use public transport for their whole journey, this is just not practical, especially for those who live in the outer suburbs.
Unfortunately for the Morrison Government, a great policy has turned bad with poor execution. Yet it would be wrong for any future government to dismiss parking as not a federal issue. Currently, the UK Government is working closely with the British Parking Association to improve the experience for those who park in a public or private facility.
The commuter car park program has highlighted the problem that many government departments (state or federal) lack the expertise to implement programs and policy. Such mistakes are costly, affect the taxpayer and could have been easily avoided if only they had engaged the right people in the first place.
My dad has a saying, ‘the biggest know-it-alls make the biggest mistakes’, and this could not be truer in the delivery of the commuter car parks. Australia has some of the best and most innovative parking technologies in the world, unfortunately they are not implemented as the bureaucracy tend not to see outside of how things have been done in the past.
There is no doubt that many of these car parks are overpriced. Yet, the saddest part is that they do not include any innovation at all and are not that dissimilar to those built thirty or forty years ago. They do not include sensor-based parking, wayfinding or guidance technology, EV charging or innovative construction.
There is no point just building more car spaces, if the commuter is not informed as to the availability of parking spaces at their train station. The cost to install sensors in each parking space is negligible. These sensors are the tool by which the commuter can see whether a car space is available or occupied. The information can then be provided on signage, an app and on the relevant public transport authority’s website. Meaning that, the commuter could know how many available spaces are at each station before they leave home.
The Australian National Audit Office has correctly reported the approximate price of a ground level and multi-storey car space. In some instances, these car parks are more than double the market rate. The taxpayer has every right to ask how this can occur. The simple answer is, there was no one overseeing the project that has the required knowledge of car parks to administer the program.
While there will be many in the government who would love this issue to go away, I can safely say it will not. The majority of these projects are yet to start, and most are going to be traditional builds that will take months or even years to complete. The disruption to the commuters who regularly park at these stations and will not be able to for an extended period, is going to be a real issue.
In addition, commuters who use a station car park that had been earmarked for an upgrade will be reminded of the failings of this program, if they cannot get a park at their local station. This won’t be a one-off realization but a reminder to them on a daily basis.
In the lead up to the election the Opposition and the media will focus on the politics, while the electorate will be focused on trying to get a park. The clear message that we should all be heeding is that parking matters to the Australian motorist and it is time we got it right.