Would free parking boost high streets in run-up to Christmas?

Municipalities have been urged to scrap parking fees at Christmas to boost shopping streets – and to stop clusters of drivers around ticket machines.

The AA believes that starting Dec. 14, free parking would help revive “beleaguered shops and street merchants” amid the surge in online transactions following the coronavirus pandemic.

It also warned that measures to ensure social distance in shops “often topple” when shoppers gather around ticket machines to pay for their parking.

While many municipalities encourage drivers to pay via mobile apps, some drivers are said to be put off by additional costs and difficulties in using the technology.

AA President Edmund King said, “In the past, free parking periods at Christmas have been used by municipalities and shopping centers to attract customers to the high streets and malls.

“The AA believes that now more than ever the opening hours and free parking locations should be extended.

“With fewer shoppers and some avoiding public transport, opening up free parking would also allow for better social distance instead of ticket machines becoming the Achilles’ heel of attempts by shops, municipalities and shopping center operators to create space and protect visitors.

“This has been exacerbated as ticket machines have become more complex, requiring both vehicle registration numbers and credit card information. It is also often a problem to queue, as there are often ticket machines where shoppers are squeezed at the entrances to parking garages or near toilets.

“Let’s hope free parking can banish the Scrooge mindset and spread joy among the retailers.”

David Renard, transport spokesperson for the Local Government Association, told PA, “Councils continue to work all day and night to support communities during the Covid-19 crisis and have responded flexibly to changing parking demand.

“Now that shopping streets and city centers are reopening for the holidays, the demand for parking spaces will return to normal in many places.

“There is no clear-cut solution. As before the pandemic, the municipalities will charge fees to reflect local conditions, including support for downtown shopping and businesses.

“Municipalities will also consider capacity and social distance issues in their local parking garages when people visit city centers.”