Battling Brisbane’s parking oligopoly


Brisbane motorists pay more for short-term casual parking in the CBD than any other Australian drivers, even those in Sydney or Melbourne.

In Brisbane you can expect to feed the meter an average of $28.08 for the privilege of leaving your car for one hour in an off-street city parking spot, more expensive even than Sydney – at $27.94 – or Melbourne, $19.40.

Off-street car parks in Brisbane’s CBD, like Sydney and Melbourne, is often operated by either Wilson or Secure Parking (bar two, cheaper council-operated car parks) an arrangement which ensures parking costs are buoyant.

A July 2016 report Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne CBD Off-Street Casual Parking Prices by Queensland’s peak motorist body, the RACQ says:

“Since 2010/11 many of Brisbane’s parking rate increases have been above inflation, suggesting that parking operators are still in a comfortable oligopoly position and are able to extract maximum prices from motorists.”

The most expensive maximum daily rate for Brisbane is $89, which the report found at four CBD parking stations.

In fact, Brisbane’s prices have quadrupled in the last five years and drivers are left circling scarce, cheaper on-street parking spots, or fighting to get into the council’s King George Square or Wickham Terrace car parks.

Brisbane City Council’s (BCC) strict planning laws have made the quest for a parking space even harder, with a limit on parking spots for new CBD office towers set at one parking space for every 200m sq. of gross floor area.

To help address this, BCC established the Brisbane Parking Taskforce.

Part of the Taskforce’s parking strategy led to the council working with mobile parking company CellOPark, where drivers register their vehicle and credit card and start and stop their parking session with an app, online or over the phone.

It means motorists only pay for the minutes they park, rather than being slugged for two-hour parking when they’ve only parked for 30 minutes.

Michael Doherty, General Manager at CellOPark, said the company’s incursion into Brisbane earlier this year had delivered the largest number of mobile parking spaces in Australia, with 8233 on-street parking spaces in the CBD.

Doherty said it saved councils money by reducing their reliance on parking machines – a large capital investment and maintenance burden – and made it easier and quicker to police infringements, as parking inspectors used licence plate recognition technology; although this has not been introduced yet in Brisbane.

Councils also get richer data about who used each parking space and for how long, as well as the average stay in each spot by zone.

Asked if the mobile payment system could hit council coffers, Doherty said that motorists were more likely to pay for a few minute’s parking rather than try to get away with not paying at all, because they only paid for the minutes they parked.

Drivers also benefit because they don’t have to wrestle with machines, hunt for change or display a ticket.

He said: “Too many councils are stuck in the 1940s technology:  [motorists] putting money into the machines and guessing how many minutes a meeting is going to take.

“Our solution provides start stop parking: it’s pro-rata. We’re pretty passionate about making it easier and more convenient for motorists and doing that through using apps.”

Doherty expects that within a year the company will be able to offer technology that shows motorists where empty parking spaces are in real-time so they won’t need to circle spots getting increasingly frustrated looking for a park or causing congestion in the CBD.

Several other Australian councils currently use CellOPark: Wollongong, NSW; Strathbogie, Vic and Fremantle, WA.

But Doherty said he was underwhelmed by the City of Sydney’s approach to parking, where arch rival Parkmobile has cornered the market, because although motorists can pay by card, phones or PC they still have to get a physical ticket in Sydney.

“Some people in the City of Sydney may believe they’ve got a parking app and they’re on par with other cities. I would really like to see them go to the market and look for a pay-by-phone parking solution that doesn’t involve a ticket,” he said.

Chief Executive at Parking Australia, Lorraine Duffy, who sits on the Brisbane Parking Taskforce, said motorists should plan their journeys better and look for car parks with cheaper rates, online for parking discounts and pre-booking deals.

Duffy said Brisbane City Council had done a great deal of work to improve parking in the city, including introducing dynamic pricing to on-street parking, special offers in council parks and using spaces more effectively.

She said mobile parking apps helped because they made parking simpler and overstaying less likely.

“It really makes parking better because you’re not thinking ‘I have to get back to my car to top up the meter.’ You’re not having that psychological challenge while you’re in meetings.”

RACQ spokesperson Renee Smith said there was still more work to do and Brisbane City Council should review its planning approval process, which sets strict limits on new parking spaces.

“We don’t buy the argument that high prices and fewer spaces in new buildings help reduce congestion, as many CBD businesses have simply leased other existing car parks for their use; continuing to push congestion levels higher,” Smith said.

“Council’s 15-minute free CBD off-street parking has been very good for motorists who want to zip in and out without added expense and its King George Square and Wickham Terrace car parks continue to be priced well below Brisbane’s average,” she said.

“But with more office tower blocks going up, and an influx of CBD workers, we need to look at providing more car parks to house them before the situation worsens.”

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