This is a rare post from myself that is almost entirely from the perspective of being a motorist.
As Belfast City Council’s Growth and Regeneration committee recommends that they do not offer free parking after 6pm or on Saturdays coming up to Christmas, my first reaction is that in fact we are only really discussing one thing: free parking on a Saturday.
But what about parking for late night shopping? Well, only three council car parks charge after 6pm – Hope Street North, outside the Great Northern Multi-Storey, Little Victoria Street behind NICHSA, and Smithfield – and of the other publicly owned surface car parks, I think only Northside and Eastside charge after 6pm.
We know that Translink has entirely fairly highlighted the impact of an avalanche of motorists arriving in Belfast city centre in the early evening on the punctuality of their commuter bus services due to queues for the free parking spaces, with knock-on effects for potential passengers travelling later as drivers omit journeys due to literally running out of time to operate them. They have angled an opportunity for cheap park and ride in front of the council as well.
However, the line reported about “long queues of cars waiting on spaces to be freed up or motorists circling the city in hope of a space” doesn’t just impact on buses.
They impact on the rest of us commuters too.
I am reminded of my post last year about Poets day and my comments about Thursday evenings, reflected through the lens of spending a couple of years working in Gasworks Business Park, being picked up by my wife, and battling through Belfast traffic just to get home, with parked cars in the Ormeau Road clearway in one direction and traffic blocking the junctions at both the Cromac Street and Short Strand ends of East Bridge Street in the other.
I’m now a car commuter – the joys of working on the north side of town where the bus would cost only £3 a day with mLink pre-purchased Metro day tickets (50p a day more than I was paying to work in the city centre), but the two buses needed would take at least an hour each way against 20 minutes each way in the car, 15 minutes of which is spent getting from our house to the M3. I know that in December, trying to get to east Belfast from the M3 on a late night shopping evening is going to be a nightmare, because of the volume of traffic coming into town. I’ve spent too long as a bus passenger, a driver, and a car passenger to not be aware of exactly how frustrating the queues are.
So, a conclusion and a plea.
Conclusion: Except for three car parks, council-operated parking for late night shopping is free anyway, and isn’t going to affect you.
Plea: Let everyone get home before you go late night shopping. Leave the house after 6, all the commuters will have cleared the city centre, and you’ll have an easier journey and peace and quiet to come and park – arrive in town after 7, and you can even use most of the bus lanes legally. Including Donegall Square East.
(PS: no, I haven’t abandoned the bus. Used it today as I had a meeting all day in the city centre… and relaxed.)