| 25.01,23. 11:23 AM |
Blue Mountains City Council to introduce parking fees at Bondi rates for towns, natural attractions
Visitors to the Blue Mountains will soon have to pay as much for parking as they would in Bondi under plans to introduce fees for cars and buses at several towns and sites.
Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill said introducing parking fees was necessary to help cover a $400 million damage bill from bushfires and unprecedented rains in the past three years.
"Unlike most places around Sydney, like if you go to places like Bondi to see the view, we've got no meters anywhere in the Blue Mountains except for Echo Point," Cr Greenhill said.
Parking fees would apply to towns including Blackheath and Leura and 10 natural sites including Leura Cascades, Wentworth Falls, and Cahill's Lookout.
Residents and employees of local businesses will be exempt from the charges, which Cr Greenhill said would be in line with what motorists paid in places like Bondi.
Fees at Bondi vary from about $4 an hour to $7.40 an hour at the beach while at Echo Point in Katoomba it costs $8 for the first hour and $9 for every hour after that.
Cr Greenhill said modelling showed expanding paid parking could generate up to $20 million a year in revenue for the council.
He said it was unfair for the region's 78,000 residents to shoulder the burden of infrastructure costs when 5 million tourists came to the region each year, many of them day-trippers.
"Tourist buses that come thundering up and down our roads all day, every day, don't pay anything, but our ratepayers cover it, so it's about bringing in some balance," he said.
The council is expected to approve the parking strategy at next month's council meeting with meters installed later this year.
Bus tour bosses urge rethink
Andersons Tours takes visitors from Sydney to four of the 10 Blue Mountains sites earmarked for fees.
Director Jihane Mangano said the council's approach to tourism businesses that had suffered during the 2019 bushfires and COVID pandemic was ruthless and insensitive.
"It's not in the spirit of supporting each other to recover from the past three years," Ms Mangano said.
She said the business had already changed its tour to spend less time at Echo Point due to the cost of parking.
"I'm sure people will still want to see the destination but they will be conscious of where they spend their time," she said.
Sydney Top Tours representative Rocky Kuma urged the council to consider the flow-on benefits for the region's economy from their guests' spending at cafes and shops.
"We are bringing a lot of overseas tourists to the Blue Mountains," he said.
But major attraction Scenic World backed the council.
"When you go to Bondi with the parking fees there's an incentive to get in and get out, so there's an opportunity for other people to enjoy the experience," head of marketing Axel Moline said.
Scenic World is also considering ways to encourage more visitors to take public transport to reduce its carbon footprint.
No time to wait
A plan to introduce paid parking in Blackheath and Wentworth Falls was shelved in 2019 in response to backlash from residents concerned tourists would park in nearby streets to avoid the fees.
Cr Greenhill said the council could not afford to wait any longer.
"If we don't introduce this, we won't be able to fix the roads," he said.
"We don't have $400 million sitting lying around in a hollow log."
He did not think parking fees would put visitors off.
"If you take the example of Stonehenge in the UK where they introduced paid parking there, visitation went up," he said.
"Bondi Beach is no less visited.
"I think people expect it."