OPED

There is no coherent vision for transport in Australia, writes Peter Mills. The state and federal policies or building toll-roads over public transport have rendered the cities giant carparks where local government constantly squeezes its constituents for more penalty revenue. The latest trend for councils to allow property developers to build apartments without carparks is particularly noxious. The result is a hit to productivity, longer working hours … and daily parking nightmares for millions of Australians.

As the government of NSW bulldozes citizens out of the way in its quest to deliver pay-for-use tollways, it is also working with local governments to turn the suburbs into gigantic paying carparks.

Not satisfied with merely skimming a finder’s fee from local parking fines and charges, it is in there with a front-end loader pulling out something like seventy per cent of car parking fines and charges revenues. It is a strategy currently framed to the public as an attempt to ease traffic and parking problems.

Yet, in another example of governments at all levels failing to understand the difference between desired behaviour and actual behaviour, state and local governments are now approving car-park free apartments in a back-of-the-envelope attempt at enticing residents away from purchasing motor vehicles – vehicles they are hoping won’t be using the toll-roads they are building.

While some buyers of these apartments will live without cars, others will take the savings they made on the apartment, spend it on new or upgraded vehicles and then go looking for curb-side parking spots. Meanwhile, developers are getting a free-kick not having to build and pay for underground parking. Instead, they deliver a smaller proportion of that cost by way of a hefty fee to state government coffers and the new residents use the lower purchase price to buy cars.

Then the local rangers go to work harvesting fines and charges from motorists trying to park their cars and governments reap the rewards of their fines. In cities like Hong Kong it’s a workable solution. Public transport is ubiquitous, cheap and frequent. But for Sydney?

Wilson Parking’s tax numbers appear to defy economic reality

Residents of this city are victims of its spectacular geography and topography. It is in reality, an extremely difficult city to navigate without a vehicle. Transplanting transport solutions from other cities and replicating them here simply isn’t going to work. In the parlance of the school-room exam, they are staring over the shoulder of the kid next to them, copying down the answers to all the wrong questions.

The allocation of car parking rights within council areas opens an entirely new Pandora’s Box of poor decision making and planning at a local level. There’s a further addition to the unworkable, unreasonable, unfair and discriminatory chaos associated with transport and traffic ‘solutions’.

Both levels of government approve the building of new apartments – the 21st century monuments to modern living – then promptly punish residents for buying them by denying parking rights delivered to residents in older properties.

North Sydney Council allocates resident car-parking permits in its three parking ‘zones’ and thirty-three parking ‘areas’ – it uses a low-brainer combination of the age of the property, its existing car spaces and the number of bedrooms it has – as if that somehow correlates to parking needs; criteria so poorly designed, allocated and applied, it’s beyond a joke.

Older houses get the parking spaces denied residents in recently built apartment blocks. Resident parking permits are handed out using criteria pulled out of a hat. The resident of a Zone C, three bedroom semi, built before the late 1990’s, on a five hundred square metre block of land, with one existing car space and one person living in it, qualifies for two resident street parking permits.

If however you live in Zone C in a two-bedroom apartment approved for construction and or occupation after 1998/99, with two people living in it and one car space, you qualify for nothing. The larger and older the property, the more chance you have of qualifying for even more parking entitlements – irrespective of how many cars or people live at the property.

PPP plundering takes its toll on love

If sustainability is the aim, then dollar contribution per square metre of land footprint would have to be a critical variable in any algorithm used to calculate who qualifies for parking benefits. The dollar contribution of apartment residents (per square metre of land footprint) to local government coffers is so astronomically higher than residents in free-standing residences, it clearly isn’t something governments want to have to think or talk about.

Punishing residents for embracing change is unfair, unreasonable and discriminatory. All three categories, clearly are articulated in the NSW State Government’s Ombudsman’s eligible complaint definitions. The result? Non-residents are driving into apartments and parking in resident spaces knowing nobody can touch them.

Residents bound by strata laws have to abide by those regulations. But non-residents can use an apartment block car-park without being touched. The police refer complaints to North Sydney Council, the council refers them back to the police and the new strata laws have so much red tape around them its close to impossible trying to remove illegally parked vehicles. The result is vigilante behaviour, with offending cars being damaged in order to deliver the message and enforce what governments refuse enforce.

Once again, the victims are punished, whilst the perpetrators get away with the crime. Owners corporations have to apply a weather resistant notice for five days detailing times and dates of offences, names of owners corporation representatives or representatives and if all that is complied with, the car can be moved. And at the owners corporations expense, after which, the owners corporation can apply to a tribunal to have expenses reimbursed.

The reality is you can park on anyone’s property without paying and without having to worry about having your car moved without a huge amount of time and red tape. Park anywhere, as long as it’s on someone else’s private property; its fee free.

At a national level, the cost in terms of lost productivity is mind- boggling. The number of employees spending several hours each week running in and out of offices moving cars to avoid parking fines is staggering. With all the talk of the importance of productivity gains it’s surprising it never surfaces in discussions or debates. Or is it so surprising? When it comes to the achieving those gains, it’s the workforce that is called on time and time again to deliver. Lower wage growth, longer working hours, reduced penalty rates. When part of the solution to greater productivity is staring you in the face but has government revenue stamped on it, it simply doesn’t count.

More stories by Peter Mills:

Oped: polling is destroying Western Democracies