Drive-in democracy at Parliament House to cost $20 a day

The good old days of free parking at Parliament will be gone by the end of 2014…

Just days after Treasurer Joe Hockey was forced to publicly apologise for quipping that poor people don’t drive cars, the nation’s capital is set for another bout of road rage, this time from those who prowl the corridors of power.

Visitors staying more than two hours when visiting Parliament House in Canberra will shortly feel the sting of pay parking from November, as authorities responsible for the day-to-day operations of the vast complex try to financially deter a wave of public service refugees looking for cheap all-day car spots.

Procurement documents released through AusTender by the Department of Parliamentary Services confirm the present regime of free parking, available since Parliament moved into its bigger digs in 1988, will be replaced by a system of boom gates and ticket charges that will make it cheaper to park elsewhere in the Parliamentary Triangle if visitors are contemplating anything more than a passing visit.

The change represents a major cultural shift for the small army of lobbyists, government relations staff and stakeholder representatives who for almost 25 years have effectively used the basement as the front door to the democratic process.

Although a hardcore rump of lobbyists are Canberra based, the parking issue is set to hit so-called DIDO (Drive-In, Drive-Out) representatives that prefer the greater certainty, flexibility and convenience a 3 hour commute from Sydney offers over competing for seats or enduring delays when flying.

Canberra’s fragile taxi supply situation, which is often either a glut or a severe shortage, is also a key part of the enduring popularity of self-drive trips up to the Hill.

Public servants, who can often spend long periods in the waiting rooms of ministers, members and their advisors will also to be hit by the new tariffs.

Although some senior public servants have access to spots in the Parliamentary staff car park, it has also been practice for lower ranking bureaucrats attending often lengthy, late night Senate Estimates hearings.

Reports indicate that access to the carpark between 9pm and 8am will be free of charge, but a sliding scale of up to $20 per day will apply.

That scale of fee is closer to rates charged at Canberra airport, where a 5-hour to 24-hour covered park costs $27.50 than to the National Capital Authority’s $12 per day to access now free outside carparks.

There are also worries that Parliament could be disrupted by staff seeking to avoid fees by scrambling to avoid the parking fees.

Parts of the public sector are already abuzz with rumours that semi-commercial car-pooling services will proliferate because of owners that want to offset their parking costs by offering a ride to those willing to offer money for a lift.

In the US, a number of cities and taxi services have contested whether such activity amounts to a black-market cab or hire car service that bypasses established government fees, charges and insurances and potentially undermines the viability of cab companies.

The big unanswered question for parkers in the NCA’s so-called ‘Golden Triangle’ is whether annual parking permits will be transferable between vehicles.

The latest battle in the Capital’s parking wars by Parliamentary Services comes after almost all sides of politics united in anger over malfunctioning of security bollards installed as an anti-terrorism measure in 2006.

The errant security devices, which cost an initial $2 million caught many unsuspecting drivers, sometimes rising-up underneath unwary vehicles and impaling them.

According to the tender documents for the imminently not-so-free public carpark, boom gates will control access and be required to open within 2 seconds of a transaction being validated.

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