We're spaced out in our city centres

Parking in our cities is getting tougher and there's an official move to encourage use of public transport

Parking in our cities is getting tougher and there's an official move to encourage use of public transport. So, things are not going to get any easier for Irish motorists seeking a spot of urban parking. John Cradden reports.

Time may be running out for motorists using company car park spaces.

These may soon become a taxable benefit despite the Government's prolonged silence on the issue, according to a senior tax expert.

Jim McDonald, a tax partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers, says the introduction in January 2004 of a PAYE and PRSI burden on all benefit-in-kind taxation - and therefore the probability of higher tax revenue - may tempt the Minister for Finance to change his mind on taxing car parking spaces before the next budget.


The possibility of taxing parking spaces was mooted two years ago when a committee was established by the Department of Finance to look into the issue. However it could not reach agreement on the best way forward.

"They might conclude that January 2004 gives them a chance to get off the fence on the issue," says McDonald.

There was some speculation that the minister would impose BIK taxation on car parking spaces in Budget 2003, but no such move was made.

Liam Keilthy, director of Parking Consultants, says the committee probably found that imposing such taxation would be unpopular with the civil servants who currently avail of free car parking in city centres.

However, a spokeswoman for the Civil and Public Service Union (CPSU) dismissed this as a reason.

If employers are forced to pay tax on parking spaces for employees, many may have to review their employees' overall package of non-cash benefits, says McDonald.

Conor O'Cleirigh of DublinParking.com, an agency that buys private city centre car parking spaces on behalf of clients, estimates the cost of renting a parking space can range from €1,800 to €3,600 a year.

Meanwhile, motorists in Cork city are being asked to pay between 35 and 60 per cent extra for parking in the city centre, putting Cork almost on a par with Dublin city centre in terms of charges.

Overall, as the cost of car ownership and traffic congestion rises, the number of commuting motorists who park in privately-owned or rented spaces in off-street city centre car-parks should diminish over the next 15 years.

This is driven by factors, such as reduced parking spots in new developments, pro-public transport policies and rising land costs in city centres.

Liam Keilthy says the rate of growth in car ownership means the demand for parking in Dublin cannot be met. "There is no question of reducing the number of spaces currently available for commuter parking," he says, "but to limit the number of new spaces that would be available to commuter parking."

The real issue is rising land values in city centres - a car-park sold recently was valued at €20 million an acre.

There are also planning rules for car-parks for new developments in Dublin city, requiring a minimum number of parking spaces, depending on the size and purpose of the building.

For example, a residential apartment block in the city centre (zone 1) is allowed one space per two residential units. Further out (zone 2) the ratio is one space per unit. In the outer zone, (zone 3) it is 1.5 spaces per unit. There are similar ratios for business developments.

In its contacts with developers, the Dublin Transportation Office (DTO) encourages them to reduce the level of spaces in the city centre, depending on transport and mobility requirements.

The DTO view is that surface parking could be reduced in favour of residential developments. "Once you have good public transport, we need to increase the density of planning and reduce parking facilities to cater for those who genuinely need to use their car," says DTO chairman Conor McCarthy.

However, Conor Faughnan of the AA rejects any suggestion that commuters be pressured into relinquishing their spaces, because the quality of public transport leaves "no choice but to use cars".

An independent survey of off-street spaces commissioned in 2001 by car-park industry group, the Irish Parking Association, counted 7,200 city centre public spaces, and 12,300 private spaces in the Dublin 1 and 2 areas, not including the 2,000 spaces in residential developments in these zones. This is out of an estimated 65,000 spaces in Dublin city as a whole.

Recent reports suggested that a third of spaces in multi-storey car-parks were contracted to commuters. Given that some operators in certain areas got generous capital allowances under the Finance Act towards the cost of building public car-parks, this led to concerns that private operators were contributing to traffic congestion.

Certainly, public policy discourages contract parking in the city centre. DCC, which owns three multi-storey car-parks managed by private operator Parkrite, does not allow contract parking in these parks because of its aim to encourage more commuters to use public transport.

However, Ray Peers, chief executive of Q-Park Ireland and secretary of the Irish Parking Association (IPA), says the perception that multi-storey car-parks offering contract parking are part of Dublin's congestion problem is unwarranted. There is an over-supply of short-stay parking, he says, with city-centre operators reporting occupancy of around 50 per cent on weekdays - on Saturday this rises to 90 per cent.

Of the 7,200 public spaces in the city centre, around 1,200 are contracted to commuters, he says. "The problem isn't getting to the car-park. It's getting to the car-park - and then back home."

Initiatives, such as car pools and park-and-ride, need to be developed, says Keilthy. The problem with park-and-ride, however, is that it requires massive subsidies to be successful. Tax breaks are available to those operators interested in establishing such schemes, but they don't make a significant dent in costs. Cork Co Council runs a successful park-and-ride scheme, but it doesn't pay for itself, he says.

Keilthy says better leadership is required on the pro-public transport policy, particularly given the scheme to develop 500 spaces under Leinster House for civil servants and TDs at a reported cost of up to €40 million.