Businesses give mixed report for Nelson Bay CBD's paid parking scheme five months after rolled out

NOT HAPPY: Nelson Bay business owners Tass Taxis and Kim Burbridge are calling for longer parking hours and decreased fees.
NOT HAPPY: Nelson Bay business owners Tass Taxis and Kim Burbridge are calling for longer parking hours and decreased fees.

Five months after the controversial paid parking system was introduced into the Nelson Bay town centre, the "smart technology" has received a mixed report card from Bay business owners.

A Port Stephens Council report released last week into the Park'n Pay scheme installed last December suggests the rollout of paid parking and traffic changes had been well received by Bay businesses and residents.

But not all business owners are in agreeance, with at least two expressing their concern that the system was driving people away in their droves and threatening to turn the CBD into a ghost town.

In a council media release headed 'Changes to Nelson Bay smart parking - you told us we listened', it was revealed that more than 20,000 free parking permits had been issued and almost 7000 transactions made through the Park'n Pay app since launching.

"We've heard from residents and local businesses that the current hours of 7am to 7pm are too long, so we're proposing to change them to 8.30am to 5.30pm," mayor Ryan Palmer said.

The changes need approval by the Local Traffic Committee. Long stay parking for businesses and workers had been well received, Cr Palmer added.

"Data is telling us that our dedicated business parking areas are very popular and are reaching 80 to 90 per cent capacity by 9am each day. Thanks to this data, we will expand the business parking area to include the Donald Street East car park to create more spaces for workers in Nelson Bay."

But while many of the business owners the Examiner spoke with were extremely pleased with the improved traffic flow, there were also several criticisms, including that parking fees were too expensive, the system was confusing and that many Port residents were still unaware of the free parking policy.

SPACE: The half empty Donald Street east car park in Nelson Bay's town centre on Monday, about lunch time.

SPACE: The half empty Donald Street east car park in Nelson Bay's town centre on Monday, about lunch time.

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Business owner Kim Burbridge said that the fees - $4.20 an hour during peak and $3.20 in non-peak times - with no daily cap was outrageous.

"It is cheaper to park all day in Sydney. On a recent outing I parked my vehicle near Sydney Harbour for $15 for the day."

Ms Burbridge said that the one and two hour parking limits were driving visitors away.

"If people want to stay longer than planned, they cannot just top-up, they have to return to their vehicle and drive away to avoid a parking fine. And I don't agree with the proposal of providing more parking for workers at Donald Street east. It means visitors wanting to park for longer hours have to park further away and walk."

Another Bay business owner Tass Taxis said that he was aware of council's proposal to reduce parking restrictions, but believes they don't go far enough.

"The current set-up is killing business. Hours should be reduced to 10am-3pm Monday to Friday and half day Saturday. Sunday and public holidays should be free. I have had visitors complaining about the meters not taking cash and when they phone the number listed they get no reply. In pure frustration and fear of copping a fine they drive off," he said.

Mr Taxis said that he had never seen the Donald Street carpark so empty during weekdays and that Saturdays in Nelson Bay were like a ghost town. "I think people are confused and not bothering coming into town."

Paid parking times in the Nelson Bay CBD are currently 7am to 7pm.

Paid parking times in the Nelson Bay CBD are currently 7am to 7pm.

A long-term CBD business owner Alan Cassano said that there was still much confusion over the parking system.

"We were promised to would be easier. I had a client from Tanilba Bay ring and tell me she could no longer come because she didn't want to pay for parking. She had no idea that it was free for all Port Stephens residents."

Newsagent Garry Ramponi said that he believed the 'first 15 minutes free' policy should be better promoted.

"I believe the changes were rushed through, it needed better planning and consultation. We keep getting told by council that more signs are coming... well why did they not wait to have all the signage before introducing the system. Over the past two Christmases we have had to put up with the closure of Donald Street carpark (2019), the impact of bushfires, COVID and now paid parking."

Long-time Bay resident and former Business Port Stephens coordinator Peter Clough said that the plans to change parking restrictions to 8.30am until 5.30pm were welcomed.

"Also there is no need for half hour parking. I also think that the Donald St east and west carparks should have 3-hour parking [which was the previous arrangement ]. This tends to ensure shoppers are the key users of the carparks with a designated area for worker parking in the Donald St east carpark, which should be unrestricted and appropriately sign posted [not the entire carpark]."

In response to concerns by shopkeepers, a council spokesperson said that one of the main reasons for introducing smart parking was to reinvest revenue into town centre improvements for Nelson Bay.

"To be able to do this, it's important that we strike the right balance between paid and unpaid hours for visitors, while residents and workers park for free. We are not currently considering further restricted hours or days [Sundays/public holidays]."

In regard to the parking meters, the spokesperson said that any maintenance or issues that arise were quickly serviced by a technician.

"All of the existing meters along the Nelson Bay foreshore accept both coins and cards, however, of the new meters 35 per cent accept both coins and cards while the remaining 65 per cent are cashless. You should be able to find a coin operated meter within 100m of any park in the town centre. A call centre is staffed by our contractor from 7am to 10pm, seven days a week for any issues with the meters, and our customer relations team are available from 8:30am to 5pm, Monday to Friday to handle inquiries about the park free permit."

On the first 15 minutes free parking, the spokesperson said that stickers had been installed on every parking meter and information in marketing material, informing users of the first policy.

The council also explained the confusion over the top-up feature.

"You can top up the meter from wherever you are via the Park'n Pay app provided your time has not expired. However, if your paid session has expired you cannot top-up, you must return to your vehicle and move it."

The spokesperson said that council would consider a daily cap on metres.

"We have plans to investigate a daily parking rate and have communicated this to businesses."

Parking meter in Stockton Street, Nelson Bay.

Parking meter in Stockton Street, Nelson Bay.

The spokesperson said that council had begun carrying out traffic and parking studies and community consultation to investigate installing smart parking at Birubi Point and Shoal Bay. "We may investigate extending the smart parking area of the Nelson Bay town centre in the future."

Cr Palmer said changes due to the smart parking roll out had provided improved traffic flow and improved pedestrian safety.

"We're getting ready to switch on a number of digital smart parking signs in the Nelson Bay town centre starting in May. These will provide live information on parking space availability - saving time and making it easier to find a park."

Business Port Stephens president Leah Anderson that the organisation had been approached by many Bay businesses asking for support around the issues they were experiencing with paid parking.

"BPS organised a meeting with the concerned traders and council representatives in February to facilitate discussion on the topic and provide the traders with a forum to have their voices heard," she said.

"Many of the businesses who spoke up urged PSC to reconsider the cost of the parking, the 7am to 7pm, seven days a week timeframe, advertising of the first 15 minutes free, and the issues with meters not always working and being hard for people to understand how to use. Also, they had concerns there was not enough free parking for their workers."

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