Parking apps and the need for a COVID-safe commuting environment has people heading back to the car | The Canberra Times

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In the wake of COVID outbreaks, lockdowns and widespread disruption, the future of office work as we once knew it is now the subject of robust debate here, and in cities and towns across the world. For those who must return to the office, even against the backdrop of Canberra’s 98.6 per cent two-dose vaccination status, there’s no escaping the nagging concern of yet another unforeseen outbreak and a further threat to health. A decade ago, urban public transport modelling tracked a very slow, steady decline in private transport commuting. Yet in two short years, COVID uncertainty has reshaped that thinking dramatically. In car-centric Canberra, with arguably the best metropolitan road design in the country, Australia’s youngest passenger car fleet and the highest vehicle kilometres travelled per capita of any capital city, the calming, cossetted, contagion-free embrace of the commuter car has re-emerged. A study by the Monash University’s Public Transport Group for the Victorian Department of Transport found when public transport usage returns, it will only be at 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. Car transport usage and congestion will increase, the research found, because of some commuters’ fears over the lack of social distancing on board crowded buses and and trams. More cars brings the need for more parking, a prospect which will send Canberra’s planners, who desperately want people to shed their car usage rather than increase it, into a tailspin. Yet for many Canberrans slowly returning to work, using the car makes just as much sense – and is safer from a health perspective, as well as far more convenient – than catching public transport. Jess Styles lives at Jacka, in Gungahlin, and travels to work in the city each day. To use the light rail service she has to drive seven minutes from her home to the park-and-ride station, then walk to the Gungahlin marketplace, wait to catch the tram, travel the full length of the light rail, then walk to her office. Or she can drive. “I’ve compared them and the travel time is much the same,” she said. “Plus I know I have secure parking near to my work. The convenience and the security of using my own car is important to me and I’m not being exposed to the virus on public transport.” She uses the Parkhound app, which lists all the available private car spaces in Canberra by location and price. Most car spaces rent by the month or longer and are priced according to their location (including indoor or outdoor), their accessibility, security features, and their physical size (for those who drive large SUVs). Scoping Parkhound’s car space locations within reasonable walking distance to the city revealed prices as low as $150 per month (outdoors, at the Braddon tennis club, 11 minutes to the city), to a highest of $350 per month for a large, secure underground space in Allara St, three minutes to the city centre. The chief executive of Parkhound, Mike Rosenbaum, said the inquiry for people using the app in Canberra had risen 74 per cent in the first seven weeks of this year, compared with the same period last year. “It shows that those people who are returning to work in Canberra are showing a lot of caution about how they do so; many are choosing not to use public transport and that is perfectly understandable and reasonable,” he said. “Parkhound is not adding to parking congestion; all we are doing is providing a guaranteed car space for people who choose to drive, and helping people and organisations like sporting clubs monetise those spaces that are already sitting vacant.” Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: