SOUTHAMPTON'S controversial new evening parking fees have been branded “a farce” by opposition councillors, who are demanding a rethink.
It has also been claimed that they are turning people off coming into the city centre at night to use bars, restaurants or go to the theatre.
One firm has even threatened to quit the city centre because the charges were hurting business.
And while council chiefs have defended the the post-6pm charges, they have also admitted there have been “teething problems” during the scheme’s first two months.
As previously reported in the Daily Echo, Labour city council bosses put forward the proposals amid an uproar from businesses and community groups last year.
They were approved and the new charges came into effect in January.
Motorists now have to pay a flat fee of £2 from 6pm to 8pm in on-street parking bays, and the same charge to park in car parks from 6pm to midnight.
But some motorists claim that when they buy tickets before 6pm, parking meters do not allow them to buy tickets that will continue their parking session past 6pm, forcing them to return to their car just minutes after paying for their first ticket.
The council insists that you can buy combined tickets at meters, with a spokesman saying: “You can purchase a combined ticket before 6pm.
“Consideration has to be given to the maximum daytime tariff period.
“For example if there is a maximum daytime allowance of two hours on a particular zone you would not be able to purchase the combined ticket until after 4pm.”
But motorists have told the Daily Echo that meters have not allowed them to buy tickets rolling over from before 6pm into the evening.
Labour council leader Simon Letts said another issue officers were working on was the fact that people turning up at a meter minutes before the pay period runs out would still have to pay the full £2.
He said: “I know there is work under way which will address the problem of people turning up at a meter at 7.50pm and having to pay the full £2 for ten minutes’ parking.”
Another issue was the fact that motorists could not roll over an evening parking ticket into the following morning, as they had been able to before.
After the Daily Echo highlighted the issue back in January, the council has changed the scheme to allow customers to buy a combined ticket.
Cllr Letts added: “I know there have been some teething problems.
“There’s always a better and more efficient way of doing things, and we are adjusting the process as we go along. We are trying to get it as right as possible. We have listened to the legitimate complaints that have been made.”
But Cllr Letts’ opposite number, Conservative group leader Royston Smith, said: “As we predicted, it’s chaos. As usual they would not listen to the residents they serve when they said it wouldn’t work, and now they are being dragged back to sort out failures with the scheme. Clearly it’s been hastily done. It’s been a farce from start to finish.”
When the Daily Echo headed out to the city centre to talk to residents about the new charges, many residents said they didn’t think parking meters were clear enough about the new charges.
And the meters do not contain any information about how residents can roll over tickets to the following day, or pay for a combined ticket carrying over after 6pm.
And many motorists didn’t seem to be aware of the charges, especially visitors to the city.
Among those were theatregoers who have travelled from across the south to shows at the Mayflower Theatre.
At 7.50pm on one night the Daily Echo spotted ten of 18 cars parked in Bedford Place that did not have tickets, while three out of 11 cars in Commercial Road did not have tickets either.
Michael Ockwell, chief executive at the Mayflower Theatre, said: “There has been a big increase in frustration among our theatregoers.
“Some people have already told me that they will not be coming back to the theatre as a result.”
Meanwhile, Ray Khan, managing director at city centre accountants Khan Morris, said the charges have led to a loss of productivity among his staff.
He said: “Before the charges, our staff would regularly stay on after 6pm to do extra work, but they don’t any more because they don’t want to pay £2 more, every night.
“It’s frustrating. Nobody seems to have thought that businesses would suffer as a result. We may be relocating later in the year, and we may be looking outside the city centre now.”
DAILY ECHO EDITOR-IN-CHIEF IAN MURRAY'S VIEW:
It couldn’t have been more confusing, writes Daily Echo Editor in Chief Ian Murray.
All I and several other business leaders attending a function in the city centre were attempting to do was purchase two hours worth of parking.
We were intelligent people, we thought, but understanding the new night-time parking fees introduced by the city council was beyond us.
The time was 4.50pm. I knew the new charges meant a £2 flat fee after 6pm.
I would pay more and top up the ticket to cover the full time I would be there. Easy enough to accomplish. Wrong.
After taking £3 from me the machine issued a ticket that ran out at 6pm itself.
Everyone else was making the same mistake. Instructions on the machine proved inadequate. The only solution was for us all to return to our cars later and buy yet another £2 ticket.
In the end, after the machine managed to take a further £2.60 from me for reasons I never understood, I had paid a total of £5.60 for what amounted to less than two hours in the car park.
A nice fat profit for the city council, but would I be attending events in Southampton in the evening at that price in the future?
I think you know the answer to that question.