Local businesses accuse councils of penalising shoppers with parking fees
Parking charges provide vital revenue stream for local authorities
Dublin City Council has an annual income of an estimated ¤29 million from car parking fees and fines. Photograph: Alan Betson
The title of a recent report by a lobby group for independent retailers, RGData, shows how seriously the sector takes parking: A Nightmare on Every Street: town centres, parking and smart travel .
The report accuses local authorities of penalising shoppers through “high parking charges and the threat of the clampers”.
Addressing the Oireachtas jobs, enterprise, and innovation committee on Tuesday the organisation’s director general, Tara Buckley, called on the Government to introduce national guidelines on car parking.
“Instead of attracting customers in to do their shopping,” she argued, “car-parking policies are driving them to out-of-town retail parks and centres where parking services are free and plenty.”
Last year Dublin City Council took in more than €29 million in parking fees and fines, according to estimates in its 2013 budget, a net of over €19 million after overheads. The city council area is divided into five parking zones with fees ranging from 60 cent an hour in zone five (suburban villages) to €2.90 an hour in zone 1 (city centre).
Drivers argue the prices are too steep. Elena Ivanova, a restaurant worker from Bray, who drives into town, says: “It’s too expensive and sometimes I find it difficult to find parking around Stephen’s Green.”
Niall McMahon from Rathfarnham agrees. He drives into the city for work every day and says: “You can’t get parking on the streets so the private car parks have a monopoly and they can charge whatever they want – mad money you’re paying on parking.”
There should be more street parking, he believes, and better regulation of loading bays. “There’s too much loading going on. This fella could be here all day,” he says, pointing to a van on South William Street in the city centre.
A better public transport system would improve things, he says, but “the investment over the good times wasn’t there, it was put into the roads. It’s great if I was driving to Cork every day but I’m not.”
The Dublin Chamber of Commerce, however, is more positive about the city council’s approach to parking. Patrick King, the organisation’s spokesman, says parking is “a major issue” but he praises “the innovation that’s going on” in the capital.
He points to the introduction of the parking tag, a new service that allows drivers to pay for parking by phone or text and says, “I think things like that become really convenient to people.”
North of the city, Fingal County Council, where the maximum charge in towns is €1 an hour, brings in about €2 million a year in parking charges and fines – that amounts to just under €1 million in revenue after costs.
In Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown it’s €2 an hour and the council takes in a net of some €3.4 million, while motorists in south Dublin can expect to pay €1.50 and contribute to estimated net takings of €225,000.
For cash-strapped local authorities parking provides a vital revenue stream. Michael Lorigan, director of services at Fingal, says it is “essential for the balancing of current expenditure”.
But local businesses see the charges as a frustrating impediment to trade. Echoing the RGData report, Patricia Murtagh, president of the Malahide Chamber of Commerce, says that “parking is a huge deterrent for people to come into village centres”.
A meeting in Howth earlier this year over Government proposals to introduce paid parking at the village harbour was packed with business representatives who angrily denounced the scheme as “another nail in the coffin of small businesses”.
“A few years ago,” says Ms Murtagh, “when business was good, we needed traffic management; you do have to have a turnaround . . . most towns can’t facilitate people parking long-term all day long.”
Depend on revenue
Back then, she adds, it provided the council with money for additional projects. Now local authorities depend on the revenue for day-to-day operations, so when businesses look for compromises such as first hour free parking, they tend to get turned down.
Mr Lorigan says 70 per cent of pay-and-display revenue comes within the first hour. “So if you remove the 70 per cent of income . . . you’re forced into a situation where you’re operating the whole parking management pay and display at a serious loss.”
However, Ms Murtagh, who runs a children’s wear shop, claims county councils have given “free rein” to shopping centres. “They’ve given them planning, they’ve allowed them to have whatever reign they have on parking and they’ve really put us at a commercial disadvantage in that sense.”