The new GreenEDGE team logo? If not it should be!

It’s “un-Australian” to charge workers to park their cars according to Chris Ketter, Secretary of the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association in Queensland.

Mr Ketter has been fighting a battle with Westfield since it introduced paid parking for both shoppers and workers at its Chermside shopping centre in October last year. The key motivation for Westfield’s action appears to be defence of parking spaces in its shopping centres. Apparently they’re being taken by commuters using park-and-ride interchanges incorporated within the centres.

Parking is now free for the first three hours, and then increases on a sliding scale from $2 for an additional half hour up to a maximum of $20 for seven hours or more. There is no charge for parking at night, presumably because there’s a surplus of spaces at that time.

Westfield has reserved 300-400 spaces for use by workers at a price of $60 per month. From next month, Westfield will also introduce paid parking at its Carindale shopping centre.

However opposition is strong. Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan, whose seat of Lilley includes Chermside, reckons it’s unfair to charge workers for parking. During the recent Lord Mayoral election, Labor challenger Ray Smith called on incumbent Graham Quirk to take legal action to prevent the “scourge” of paid parking.

The idea that levying parking charges could be plausibly portrayed as “un-Australian” shows just how deeply ingrained driving is in our national psyche. But this isn’t a straightforward matter – there are some thorny issues and dilemmas.

For a start, these aren’t highly-paid workers. Retail workers are generally in the lower income strata, so the increase in their cost of parking is a significant cost impost, probably in the order of $1,000 p.a. in pre tax income.

Even so, why shouldn’t they pay their own way? After all, many workers don’t get free parking. They commute by public transport at their own expense, or fork out from their own pockets for parking. I know some workers who enjoy “free” parking, but it’s paid by their employer, essentially as part of their remuneration.

So why shouldn’t the retailers pay? They’re the ones who employ the workers directly and who need to be able to attract and retain quality staff. They’d probably respond by saying they can get the staff they need without having to pay employee travel costs.

Or why shouldn’t Westfield continue to pay? The centre manager might respond by saying it doesn’t employ the workers – the retailers do. The cost to Westfield of continuing to subsidise worker parking would be considerable, since each unpaid spot is unavailable for (paying) shoppers.

Apart from paying up, the other option for workers is public transport. As I understand it there’re reasonably good services to the CBD from Chermside and Carindale. The vast bulk of suburban retail workers however are likely to live within the region, so Brisbane City Council (the bus operator) would need to ensure local feeder services are adequate.

Council will also need to be cognisant of the spill-over impact of both shoppers and workers who park in local streets around the centres to avoid parking fees. This report suggests there’ve already been some serious problems.

In effect, Westfield and the retailers are shifting the direct costs of worker transport from their shoulders to those of individual workers, neighbours and the Council. There could be some symmetry there, since Council appear’s to be doing much the same thing to Westfield with its park-and-ride program.

Council however has a wider interest. It wants to promote public transport use over driving, both to increase revenue and to ameliorate the negative externalities – like emissions, traffic congestion and the deterioration of local amenity – associated with driving.

It should recognise so-called “free” parking isn’t good for Brisbane. Under-pricing of parking provides an incentive to drive. It also leads to drivers circulating around car parks and local streets looking for vacant parking spots.

According to Donald Shoup, a Professor at UCLA and the author of The High Cost of Free Parking, several studies have found that cruising for curb parking generates about 30 percent of the traffic in CBDs in the US.

He cites a study he did of a 15 block district in Los Angeles where cruising for on-street parking created 950,000 miles of excess vehicle travel per annum. In the process, cars consumed 47,000 gallons of petrol and produced 730 tons of carbon dioxide.

So there’s a role for Council to step up and improve the quality of public transport serving the centre. Realistically, that’ll primarily be for workers and teenagers, since the three hour cap on free parking isn’t likely to deter many shoppers from driving.

As I’ve discussed before though, if it isn’t already, I think Council should be thinking about asking Westfield and the retailers to contribute to the cost of improving those public transport services.

Don't get mad. Get Crikey.

Get full access including Side View and Crikey Talks.

Subscribe now and save 40% on a year of Crikey and get one of our limited edition Crikey sticker packs.

Hurry! Ends midnight Friday.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
40% off + free merch