No more free ride with free parking

Australia is a car nation, and Canberra was a capital built for cars.

We can accept this as a universal truth – and accept the consequences to our collective hip pocket, carbon footprint and waistline – or we can do something about it.

The ACT Government is doing something about it by introducing paid parking around the Hyatt and in the Kingston area, ahead of the introduction of paid parking in the Parliamentary Triangle.

Free parking provides little incentive to use public transport, car pool or ride a bike.  In fact, 83 per cent of Canberrans continue to travel to work by car each day.  This puts pressure on our road infrastructure and costs the ACT Government a fortune in the subsidy for ACTION buses.  Last financial year, this subsidy cost the ACT taxpayer $111 million.

Aside from the financial impact, driving to work is damaging the environment.  Twenty two per cent of the ACT’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transport.  Just a third of us need to embrace sustainable transport to see our emissions drop by 14 per cent.

Driving is also bad for our health.  Two in every three people in our city are overweight or obese.  We know people who catch the bus or train to work get an average of 41 minutes of exercise each day, while those who choose to commute by car get just eight minutes.  The experts tell us that this small amount of physical activity is enough keep off the kilos.

There are other less visible consequences of free parking.  It was a sign of inequity – dare I say elitism – that some workers received the free parking bonus while everyone else had to cough up. 

Free parking has also skewed development decisions in favour of the Parliamentary Triangle to the detriment of a city centre that is tired and in need of TLC.

And the reputation of our city has suffered as visitors waste precious time circling our national institutions, desperately seeking space in car parks overflowing with office workers’ cars. 

Cars will always remain the dominant mode of transport in Canberra, and there will always be a need for car parking. But while the introduction of paid parking within the Parliamentary Triangle has its detractors, it is not simply a cash grab.  It presents an opportunity for us to build a city for the 21st century.

Catherine Carter is ACT Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia