What was once the last inner-city street full of free parks is now more expensive than the Wilson carpark across the road.
You can sense the desperation. You can feel the pain. Where there was once was a bustling inner-city street full of cars enjoying all-day free parking now sits one lone vehicle, the empty spaces surrounding it a protest at the inevitable fate that has befallen this particular stretch of asphalt.
Alex Evans Street, the shortcut allowing drivers to pass between Upper Queen Street and Symonds Street, was a last bastion, a glimmer of hope, a remnant of a bygone era. Until recently, it boasted 10 free car parks – 11 if you squeezed them in, and no one had one of those urban tanks. It was, say those that used it, “a secret oasis”.
In a world where everything costs more all of the time, it was an improbable freebie. Unlike every other city street in Auckland, this one had no parking meters, no time restrictions. No one demanded you input your license plate, swipe your credit card or hand over your hard-earned dollars to borrow a small rectangle-shaped piece of concrete for up to two hours at a time.
It was a clearway between 7-9am. After that? “If you see a spot you’ve got to take it – it’s free,” someone who’d just grabbed the last spot – and was grinning about it – told me when I reported on this anomaly early last year. “Parking here is stress-free for the rest of the day.”
That’s right. Nab a spot – you had to be there early, and fight other drivers who queued on side streets and rushed in as the clocked neared 9am – and you were good to go. Relax, head into work, go off to a day at university, or get a coffee and go enjoy the sights and sounds of Auckland. You had all day. “It’s free!” another exuberant parker declared when I visited last year.
So desperate were users to keep this spot secret – one told me she’d been parking there since the late 90s – they all asked me not to reveal the street name in case demand ramped up, or, worse, Auckland Transport wised up and did something about it. “Don’t write this story … you’re ruining our lives,” I was told by one regular.
Now, Auckland Transport has wised up and done something about it. This week, when I just happened to be visiting the city, I noticed new signage had been put in place and a brand new parking meter was glinting meanly in the sun. The cost? $1 an hour for the first two hours, then $2 an hour after that. Sounds pretty reasonable, you might think. But that means a full day’s parking will now cost at least $14 – that’s pricier than the Wilson carpark across the road where an all-day park will set you back $12, as long as you’re in before 9am.
Auckland Transport didn’t respond to a request for comment*, but I did find this horrible satellite photo on its website confirming the news.
No wonder there was just one driver who’d bothered to take up the new opportunity for paid parking when I was there. Auckland is now barren of freebies, devoid of good things. Drive in and pay for the privilege, the city says, or take your chance with public transport.
But the dream isn’t quite over. There’s one final option for commuters looking for a free park, but you’re going to have to fight for it. Drive around the corner and down St Benedicts Street, past the church, the Hard to Find Bookstore, and the Tournament Parking building, and you’ll find signs that suggest parking on this particular street costs the same as Alex Evans Street.
Yet, if you keep heading towards Newton Road, there’s another sign, a large blue one, indicating that the street’s paid parking zone has come to an end. That leaves three free parks on the left hand side of the street, and a handful on the right. Right now, as of writing, these parks remain some of the last spots of unmetered parking in the inner city.
When I was there late on a Thursday afternoon, it was at capacity, full of drivers enjoying their all-day free parking, just like Alex Evans Street used to be. It won’t last, because nothing free ever does. Get in there. Make the most of it.
* A spokesperson for Auckland Transport later confirmed the parking metre on Alex Evans Street was installed on May 15. They also confirmed there are no other streets in Auckland central offering all-day free parking.