Free parking paying off

By Ed McLeish

The combination of Black Friday sales, Christmas in the Mall and the new council initiative to make parking free across the Shepparton central business district has boosted sales in retail and hospitality.

Shepparton Chamber of Commerce president John Anderson, a main organiser of the free parking initiative, said it was a “lovely surprise” to see council commence the regulations two days early.

“What we look forward to is the positivity we’re hearing from customers and business people about the fact they’ve got free parking and the difference it’ll make to the shopping experience,” Mr Anderson told said.

“We have to be sure that people who operate businesses don’t take parks that are there for the shoppers; a particular park could be turned over as many as eight times a day.”

Camera House manager Paul Lelliott said he felt his store had a 50 per cent increase in customers coming through.

“We also noticed a general sense of happiness coming in from our customers,” Mr Lelliott said.

“We’re thankful for Council being generous, happy with the initiative and hope it continues to happen in the future.”

Popular Fryers St café Lemon Tree's manager Leanne Stride said lifting the parking regulations made her customers stay at the café longer.

“People who don’t come into the CBD very often will now — there were a lot of new faces this weekend, which was really interesting,” Mrs Stride said.

“Customers know they don’t have the extra parking costs, so they spend money on another coffee with us.”

Despite council messages to the public about the temporary free parking, Mr Lelliott said he believed there was still confusion regarding which areas were free and which were remaining as paid parking areas.

“A simple little Christmas-themed hood ornament [hanging over the meters] telling people parking’s free would’ve done the trick,” he said.

The meters and the PayStay app have messages on them regarding the free parking areas, and parkers will only be fined if they overstay the time limit on signs or are parked illegally.

“The meters won’t take money if customers try and pay with coins,” Mr Anderson said.

“It’s early days, but word will get around.

“Chamber of Commerce have set up a reference group between the council and the chamber to be meeting this week to work out how to establish the benefits to gauge how effective this is going to be, so we can see this as a long-term idea.”

Greater Shepparton City Council’s citizens services acting manager Susan Sallabanks said the council’s customer service team received several phone calls from people at the weekend making sure they didn’t have to pay.

Drivers are still expected to pay if they park in the multi-deck car park, at GV Health or Care Park car parks.

The free parking regulations finish on January 31 next year.