Parking in ‘Middle-Earth’
I have just spent a month “skiing” in New Zealand – not zooming over snow or water with planks tied to my feet, but what the Kiwis call skiing, i.e., Spending the Kids Inheritance on a tour of their beautiful islands. This trip of a lifetime was to celebrate 40 years of wedded bliss (she told me to say that). So here’s my take on what can be found at the bottom of our planet
You really do need to hire a car to get ’round. People do cycle or travel by bus, but a car gives you freedom to go where and when you want, and for “people of a certain age,” to carry enough “stuff” ’round to be comfortable. Being restricted to what you can carry just wouldn’t hack it for me.
We hired a Toyota Corolla, a small hatchback that actually seems to make up about half the car fleet in NZ. Can I think of a single negative thing to say about the car? No. Would I buy one? No. Cars are very personal things, but if you go there and get one, it’ll be OK.
Scenery? Well, it’s just one continuous WOW! It’s very green, underdeveloped outside the few cities, with small towns and settlements many of which could double as sets for your favourite 1960s western with very little effort. The environment varies from tropical forest in the north through to more temperate land to the south. Much of it is mountainous with spectacular views of mountains, valleys and glaciers, and with a unique wildlife found nowhere else in the world, including a genuine dinosaur.
The Tuatara were known from 260-million-year-old fossil records, but were thought extinct until living examples were found on one of the offshore islands, and now they are being bred again on the main islands.
At this point, “Shoupistas” may want to hide under the bedclothes, because – horror, shock – most parking in most places is free, even in quite big towns. Curb-side parking is marked and often will have a time limit that links to the nearby street-front activity. Thus, 30 minutes outside the bank, 180 minutes at the museum. Usually the side roads are unlimited.
Even in the center of Wellington, the capital city, there was a free parking spot outside my hotel front door. The time limit was just five minutes, so pull up, drop off the luggage, and then go store the car somewhere else.
Enforcement seems to rely on good old tire chalking, and no one seemed to be running horror stories about spawn of the devil parking enforcers. I spoke to one or two of our brethren there, and they all seemed to be relaxed and happy in their work. (It works, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.) Elsewhere in the city, and in other towns, there was paid parking, but usually charges were pretty low, perhaps one or two dollars.
One parking plan that did catch my eye, however, was in the city of Nelson on the South Island. Bonkers doesn’t start to describe it.
Main Street is paid parking. There are pay-and-display meters and big signs everywhere saying that parking is paid and that parkers can stay for only an hour, “at any time.” Only it isn’t. Someone has decided that the first (and only) hour parking should be free. The “at any time” restriction isn’t quite what it seems, either; “charges” are 9 to 5; park after 5 p.m., and you can stay as long as you want.
To ensure that the one hour is enforced, drivers can press a button on the meter and get a free ticket to show when they arrived. So, to recap, there are fully working expensive pay-and-display meters, which never take any money but issue hundreds of parking tickets.
The local response to this seems to be that if you are staying for more than 60 minutes, you simply move your car and/or get another free ticket, since the nearest carpark that offers longer stays is way down one end of the main street and you have to pay! Pretty certain that this could be done better and in a more cost-effective way – perhaps they need a parking consultant?
My expedition ended in Christchurch, the main city on the South Island. You may remember that, in February 2011, the city was devastated by an earthquake, which registered 6.3 on the Richter scale and left areas of the city flattened. I was reminded of post-war 1950s London by the sight of city streets with gaps where buildings had collapsed and had not yet been re-built.
That’s not to say nothing is happening: The government’s rebuild program is set to run through to 2020, with NZ 100 million dollars a week being spent.
It’s just that there is an awful lot to do.
Matters were not helped when, on Feb. 14, 2016, a moderately severe quake shook the city, followed by another a few days later. These caused little damage, but the city’s historic tram service route includes a street of Victorian Spanish style shops which all, bar three, had been strengthened after 2011. All three unimproved shops were declared unsafe after Feb. 14, cutting the tram route in half. The lady who owns these three properties is unlikely to win a popularity poll any time soon.
One initiative that Christchurch will have introduced by the time you read this is dropping the speed limit to 30 kph in the city core. Accident rates between cars and pedestrians and cyclists were seen as too high, and experience elsewhere has shown an 82% drop in injury accidents.
More difficult to solve is the dramatic increase in head-on crashes, as more and more tourists from Europe and, particularly, China forget that, in New Zealand, vehicles drive on the left, not the right.
(As anyone who has been there knows, driver skills in China often leave a lot to be desired. The police response to bad driving can be direct. One Chinese visitor was stopped travelling at 150 kph in a 50 kph zone. The police simply took the car away and returned it to the rental company.)
Peter Guest, a Consultant in the UK,
is PT’s Editor-at-Large on all things British, European, Middle Eastern and Indian. Contact him at email@example.com.