While English yoof are fire bombing cars and looting shops for sneakers and iPads, protests in Adelaide are a little more sedate. Recently, a group of people quietly protested the introduction of car parking fees at public hospitals. It was reported on the Adelaide Now website and in the Messenger Press.
I have my own views about free parking. It does not exist. Somebody pays for it, even if it is society generally because they lose out on a piece of land that could be used for something else. For example, some of the really big car parks we see around big Bunnings stores could be child care centres or schools.
Part of the problem is that, other things being equal, the lower the cost of something, the greater the demand (where cost is not just money but time and inconvenience). I would recommend the paper on free parking and minimum parking requirements that Donal Shoup wrote. The low price leads inevitably to unlimited demand so that it does not matter how much parking you provide, it is never enough.
Occasionally a suggestion is made to charge for parking in suburban shopping centres such as Westfield at Marion. It inevitably leads to howls of indignation. I have been to Marion a few times and depending on the time of day you can spend a very long time driving around trying to find a car park. Charging for them is one way of rationing a limited resource. Often at those car parks, the best positions are taken up by shop owners. I had my hair cut recently and the hairdresser was pleased to be able to point out his new car parked on the street right in front of his shop. That kind of defeats the argument that car parking spaces in front of a business are necessary for business.
Nevertheless, you can understand people's dismay. A lot of people using the car parks are staff, many of whom work at night, and people visiting patients. The cost as I understand it will be about $13 a day. I do not know what the proposed hourly rate is.
Unlike with going to the shops, generally people do not choose to go to hospital. Either they are sick themselves or they are visiting someone they know who is sick. Charging for the privilege does seem a little questionable. I am all for measures to change behaviour and encourage alternatives to the car but you would have thought somewhere other than a hospital would be the place to start. Shopping centre car parks would be far more effective.
Free parking at all hospitals may not be the answer but you would think something fair could be organised. As usual, David Hembrow has written a great blog post on this subject. A good suggestion is in one of the comments below the post. In the writer's city (a Dutch city), at the hospital, anyone can drive in and use the car park. To get out you need a token. Depending on the purpose of your visit, you are either given a token or you pay for one. Patients and their family members are obvious candidates as are doctors and nurses working a night shift.
In addition to a system like that, of course a decent public transport system (with priority for buses and a regular service every day) and a proper segregated bicycle network that leads to places like hospitals would also help so that visitors and staff have a genuine alternative.
Charging people without any alternative really does defeat the object.