The parking measures announced this week for the Christmas period, aimed at wooing shoppers to the city and the county towns by suspending on-street charges from 3pm – ‘Free from Three’ goes the catchphrase – should be enthusiastically welcomed.
That the incentive is necessary in the first place at the busiest time of the shopping year tells its own story, of course – it acknowledges the reality that parking continues to be seen as a problem, despite the repeated protestations of council officials that the perception is all wrong.
Alas for them, perception too often equals reality as far as potential shoppers are concerned, no matter what the evidence to the contrary might say. Call it a communication problem: there’s a lot of it about these days.
And yet the plain fact is that parking charges locally are among the cheapest in the country. A Limerick resident visiting Dublin last week reported that the multi-storey car parks were full on a Friday, with cars forced to wait before the barrier allowed access as other motorists departed. On the streets, the pay-and-display spaces were also at a premium. And the cost of parking up? €2.90 per hour anywhere near the centre of the city, and €2.40 per hour a little further out.
There may be complaints among Dubliners that the cost of parking is too high, but market forces hold sway. The price of anything, including a parking space, is dictated by whoever much people are prepared to pay for it. The problem in Limerick – particularly in the city centre – is not that there are not enough spaces, or that parking is too expensive. At only £1 per hour for a disc, and with the Park Magic service offering a keen price and added convenience, parking here is a third of the price that the capital charges motorists. No, the problem is that unless the city ups its retail proposition substantially, the so-called parking ‘problem’ will not be going away.
Like Limerck, Dublin, Cork and Galway all have major out-of-town retail parks offering free parking. They have not undermined businesses in the centre to anything like the same extent because shoppers broadly believe that the range of retail offerings is sufficiently attractive to justify the parking charges. The same is not true in Limerick – hence the festive attempt to woo people with a few hours of free parking.
For generations the front page of the Leader has carried stories about parking – generally they have featured the dissatisfaction of city traders on a range of issues, including over-zealous wardens. For different reasons, there is still a small-city attitude among many potential visitors to the centre – an expectation that they should be able to find parking on the street close to where they wish to go and an irritation when the best available option is a multi-storey facility charging around €2 an hour – still considerably less than the charges in Dublin.
We welcome the latest measures and we urge readers to avail of them - whether in the city centre, or in Newcastle West, Abbeyfeale, or Kilmallock, where traders are gearing up for a period that could make or break their year.
But, where the city is concerned, the regrettable reality is that we expect to be reporting on unhappiness over parking for quite some time to come – or until such time as the people of the Mid-West decide in sufficient numbers that there are enough attractive and distinctive shops to justify the cost.
Looking on the bright side, progress has certainly been made and it does the heart good to see abandoned premises come back to life, with new retailers setting up shop. As Christmas approaches, Limerick has much to offer shoppers. Let’s hope more will spend their money locally as a result of this new measure.