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Tauranga parking: Waikato University students have to fight for scarce, costly car parks

Merewai Durutalo

Students' CBD struggle: 'Why do we have to fight for parking everyday'

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Some University of Waikato students in Tauranga say they are having to fight for cheap CBD car parks or miss classes to avoid high parking costs eating into their tight budgets.

The university says parking cost and access issues have been a consistent complaint from students, while the Tauranga City Council says it has talked to students and tried to make improvements as the CBD undergoes a once-in-a-lifetime transformation.

Teaching student Imelda Fuimaono was usually based at the university’s Hamilton campus but had been visiting the 4-year-old Tauranga campus for study. She said she was floored by how hard it was to find cheap parking.

“Why do we have to fight for parking every single day? Especially if you’re bombarded with classes, like back-to-back, you know,” Fuimaono said.

She believed the university should be doing more about the issue.

“[This] should be something that the university needs to talk about, especially student voices because sometimes we feel like we’re not heard.”

The Tauranga campus was on Durham St and attracted steady foot and vehicle traffic. It also has the city’s central bus stop.

Surrounding the main campus building, the CBD was a hive of construction activity.

With roadworks and road closures, students said finding a cheap park could be a big challenge.

Like many of the Tauranga cohort, Grace McSweeny studied and had a job to try to make ends meet.

She said the cost of parking was cutting into her already-tight student budget.

“It’s actually more expensive if you’re parked on the street, compared to the building. I have to get here quite early, even if my classes aren’t early,” McSweeny said.

Some students estimated parking cost them $14 to $18 each day.

The maximum weekly student allowance under 24-year-olds can get is $341.01 before tax, but this would drop if they earned more than $258.08 a week. Rates changed for students with children or a partner, or living at a home owned by their parents.

The Tauranga City Council ended a two-year trial of free parking in the CBD in December. Sunday parking remained free and the council recently made Saturdays and weekdays after 5pm free again, too.

Weekday on-street parking now costs $2 an hour for the first two hours and $5 an hour after that ($34 for eight hours). The Spring St and Elizabeth St parking buildings are $17 for a day. Off-street paid parking areas The Strand, TV3 and the Masonic Civic have a $12 daily maximum, and Cliff Rd has a $6 daily maximum. The Dive Crescent carpark is closed for redevelopment, and one on Devonport Rd has also closed.

The reinstatement of parking fees and losses of CBD parks was one factor that led long-time CBD retailer Bill Campbell to recently move his gift shop business to Mount Maunganui, where parking is free.

For first-year student Maia Bryant, the parking cost was also getting too much.

“I have classes typically every single day. But I only come to class now on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. But lately, on some Wednesdays, I don’t even come now,” Bryant said.

The University’s Tauranga campus director Joseph Mcfarlane said students had clearly and consistently identified cost and parking availability as key challenges to accessing the Tauranga campus.

“Through impact labs and workshops in collaboration with Tauranga City Council and the university, students have had the opportunity to express these concerns directly and also to be part of the process of looking for solutions,” Mcfarlane said.

The university’s Annual Reports show 693 students enrolled in 2019, 815 in 2020, and 1070 in 2021.

In 2022, there were 1499, and this year enrolments stand at 1355, with that figure likely to increase over the remainder of the year.

If the trend of growing student numbers continued, finding a park may become even harder.

Tauranga City Council director of transport Brendan Bisley said it recently met with a group of University of Waikato students who were leading a research project on how students travel to and from the university.

The presentation showed most students used private cars but some also bussed and biked to the university.

“In general, while the long-term goal is for people to be less reliant on cars and use other forms of transport such as buses, walking and cycling, we recognise there will always be a need to provide car parking options for everyone who would like to learn, live, work and visit the city centre,” Bisley said.

The transformation of Tauranga’s city centre was a once-in-a-generation opportunity, he said.

“But it could mean that people may not be able to park in the same places they’re used to. We continue to work with local businesses and our partners such as the University of Waikato to develop short and longer-term parking solutions, that will help achieve our collective goals.”

It was also hearing ideas and feedback from other people who work and visit the city centre.

“We’re doing what we can to balance the needs of everyone.”

He said a recent example of that was to return to free parking on Saturdays and after 5pm on weekdays.

“We also changed the lease structure in the parking buildings to a first-in, first-served model, meaning there will be more parking available for people coming into the city centre any time of the day.”

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