Save up your pocket money if you wanna park in CBD
Did you feel ripped off this holiday season when you parked your car in the city, at a shopping centre or at the airport when picking up or dropping off loved ones?
If paying inflated petrol prices wasn’t enough, motorists are now also being hit with inflated parking rates when they go shopping or to the airport. Then, of course, there are the CBD parking stations that cost an arm and a leg.
It’s these CBD parking stations that consistently cost motorists dearly as the fees at the CBD parking stations start climbing the moment that boom gate rises to let you in.
Of course the apologists for the CBD parking stations will rush to their defence and say that the exorbitant CBD parking station fees are the fault of higher land values in the CBD and city councils that impose parking levies on the parking station operators. And, naturally, the free market theorists will say tough luck as it’s “the market” that decides the price.
Well, the problem with all those excuses is that there’s a real market failure when it comes to CBD parking station fees. Quite simply, there’s a lack of full and timely transparency of the CBD parking stations fees.
How many times have you driven past a CBD parking station only to see advertising boards offering an attractive “from” price? Rarely, do you see a full price board until you are sitting right in front of the boom gate with some impatient driver behind you honking their car horn for you to quickly go through.
Why don’t the CBD parking stations put their full price board in large print at a highly visible place where motorists have an opportunity not to enter the parking station if they don’t like the advertised prices?
It’s pretty simple. CBD parking station operators don’t want you being able to shop around and that’s what you could do if you see the full price board from the road. The harsh reality is that the operators don’t mind ambushing you with the exorbitant prices at the boom gate as you then have no choice but to accept the parking fees given it’s impractical or just dangerous to try and back out onto the road with cars behind you or that could come in behind you anytime.
As for the price boards indicating an attractive “from” price there’s certainly a good argument to be made that they are misleading motorists by creating a false impression as to the true cost of parking at the particular parking station.
And, of course, parking station operators should not feel protected by some tiny asterisk next to the attractive “from” price as the tiny fine print linked to the asterisk cannot generally be seen or read from a motor vehicle.
The key message is that the onus is on parking station operators not to mislead motorists. Here our friends at the ACCC could certainly take action to deal with the misleading conduct. They could also have some useful input regarding the development of a mandatory code of conduct for full and timely transparency of parking station fees.
These initiatives would obviously help motorists, but more needs to be done as it’s not only motorists that suffer from inflated parking rates.
Whether it’s at a Westfield Shopping Centre or a major airport inflated parking rates hurt retailers at those locations by penalising customers who spend more time shopping at the particular location.
It defies logic that the longer customers stay to shop and spend money at the shopping centre or airport, the more they pay for parking. Where’s business sense in that? Or is it simply a case of what the shopping centre can get away with?
Take, for example, a Westfield Shopping Centre. Typically you get 3 hours of “free” parking. At Bondi Junction in Sydney it’s just 2 hours. Beyond the free period you pay an increasing parking fee that quickly adds a small fortune to your shopping bill.
Now stop to think about it. You go shopping at a major shopping centre and if you take the time to go from shop to shop as no doubt the struggling retailers would like us to do you end up having to pay ever increasing parking fees to do it. Surely major shopping centres and their retailers should be doing everything they can to get customers to stay longer and spend more money.
As it stands the fee structure is designed to encourage you to leave before the end of the `free’ period. Allowing a free period of 2-3 hours is just not enough if you would like to browse the hundreds of retail shops you find at a major shopping centre.
For those customers who do want to spend money over an extended period the parking fee structure penalises rather than rewards. Rather than punish customers for staying beyond the “free” period why not provide real free parking for the day if the customer spends more than, for example, $100 at the major shopping centre during the visit?
Such a loyalty scheme could easily be implemented by the shopping centre. A customer could, for example, be given a new validated parking ticket by the retailer to use to exit the car park if the customer spends the $100 at that one retailer.
Otherwise the customer could use a shopping centre loyalty card, like those offered by Westfield, that’s swiped at each retailer and if the amount spent totals more than $100 for the visit then the loyalty card can be used at the car park exit to waive the parking fee.
It’s a very simple idea for rewarding those customers who spend money at the shopping centre. The obvious benefit of this reward system is that it encourages customers to spend more time when retailers are really struggling. Implementing the system would cost very little in the scheme of things and could be used at all shopping centres having or contemplating paid parking.
The shopping centre can retain the existing paid parking fee structure as that’s designed to deal with commuters who simply use the car park on the way to and from work and don’t spend money at the shopping centre.
Of course, if a so-called commuter does spend more than the $100 for a visit then they are no longer what the economists call a “free rider”. That’s a person who is disliked by shopping centre owners because they get a benefit - car parking - without paying for it.
The same concept can be easily used at major airports. People will be more inclined to spend more time and money at airport retailers when seeing off or picking up loved ones. At the moment, the prohibitive airport parking fees mean that it’s always a rush to get in and out of the airport as quickly as possible and that’s bad news for all those struggling airport retailers.
So let’s reward rather than punish customers for spending more time and money. And, let’s not forget the need to stop parking station operators from engaging in dubious tactics that are potentially misleading and in breach of our consumer laws.
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