Issued with a problem – Ballarat’s parking debacle

Parking restrictions outside of the Ballarat Base Hospital. Photo by Imogen Bailey.
A new multi-level carpark at the Ballarat Base Hospital highlights increasing parking problems in the regional centre. Imogen Bailey reports.

The Fiori Arte Florist sits on Ballarat’s main road, Sturt Street. It is a convenient 50 metres from the two large hospitals – Ballarat Base (operated by Ballarat Health Services – BHS) and St. John of God. There is an abundance of flowers for those in the hospitals, however not of parking.

Anna Smith*, the owner-operator of Fiori Arte, has lived in Ballarat her whole life and has witnessed the changes that have taken place over the years.

“I don’t think there’s enough parking, but I don’t know how they can fix it. Especially here, because I don’t see where they could put more parking – in this part of town anyway,” she says.

The Ballarat Base Hospital is the largest in the Grampions region. It is the principal referral hospital for the area, covering 48,000 square kilometres – stretching down to the South Australian border. The Base hospital employs 4000 people alone – that’s 61.5 per cent of the total number of people who work in the Health and Social Assistance industries in the area, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data. In addition, 68.4 per cent of all people employed in the City of Ballarat drive to work, the ABS reports.

Large numbers of patients and staff come into Ballarat on a daily basis. To try to combat the lack of parking, in 2015, the City of Ballarat worked with BHS to build a multi-level carpark at the Ballarat Base Hospital.

“We, as a council, contributed $2.4 million towards the multi-level carpark. It is very unusual for a council to help a hospital with a parking issue,” says Mayor of Ballarat, Samantha McIntosh.

It’s a paid carpark that both staff and patients can use. Staff pay $5 a day to park and there are discounts for vulnerable patients.

“Immediately we noticed that the carpark was hitting capacity by 10am, which is a new phenomenon for us,” says acting CEO of BHS, Leanne Shea.

A whole day parked in the multi-level is $16 and if a car is there for consecutive days, the maximum charge is $40. These rates are significantly cheaper than city counterparts, whose parking for five or more hours is $35.

Some staff choose not to park in the multi-deck and some may not have a choice, if the carpark is full when they arrive.

“I’d say that if you surveyed most of the staff, they’d probably say they shouldn’t have to pay for parking,” Shea says.

“Staff may have to go through some salary sacrificing to fulfil their parking requirements. The hospital may need to reduce the cost during certain times of the day. The executive team and board need to look at strategies around parking,” McIntosh says.

Issued with a problem - Ballarat's parking debacle
Cars parked in the multi-deck. Photo by Imogen Bailey.

Cars were parked in the residential streets around the hospital, which until recently, was free.

“In recent times the surrounding streets of the hospital have been reduced to three hour parking limits, where it used to be all day, which means that staff have to go off in their breaks and move their cars because of the three hour limits,” Shea says.

“Everyone needs to be able to access the hospitals, the university, their homes and businesses. We have to look after everyone in the community, not just one group,” McIntosh says.

“There’s not enough parking for the patients too. You see elderly patients who have to walk a long way to the hospital,” Smith says.

In the hopes of freeing up space in the multi-level carpark and getting staff cars off residential streets, BHS staff have been given the option to park at City Oval, which is all-day free parking, and catch a shuttle bus to the hospital. It costs BHS $4000 a month to run the service.

“Through consultation with the Council, we have implemented a shuttle service that runs between City Oval, which has an extra 69 carparks, and the hospital. It runs Monday to Friday on the hour between 6.30-7.45am and 3-4pm in the afternoons. We may have to extend this out to 9am in the mornings and run it until 6pm if possible in the evenings,” Shea says.

“We have provided City Oval as a park and ride option, but not a lot of people are using it, only about 30. We’d love the hospital to help more with that,” McIntosh says.

However, if the carpark is at capacity by 10am, the shuttle service may be going unused because it isn’t running at the times when staff need it most.

Issued with a problem - Ballarat's parking debacle
Cars parked at City Oval. Photo by Imogen Bailey.

“There are a lot of cancer patients who have to go in for treatment for a few hours and they have to walk a long way. I just don’t think that’s fair that they have to park and [risk] get parking tickets because they can’t park closer for longer. I think increasing the limits in the next couple of blocks would be a better thing to do,” Smith says.

“While we will continue to work with the hospital, we must be inclusive of the entire community,” McIntosh says.

The public transport available in Ballarat and surrounding areas is not frequent enough to make it a viable option for patients and staff. During the morning and afternoon peaks, the buses that run near the hospital operate every 40 to 60 minutes, depending on the route.

“Public Transport Victoria (PTV) are working on changing those bus routes and they are consistently looked at. Is the hospital looking at PTV?” McIntosh says.

The hospital is considering other options and has regular forums with staff about car parking.

“Taxi vouchers have been discussed, to ferry staff to their cars if they’re finishing late at night. We may have to cordon off car parks for nursing staff who aren’t parking in the multi-deck because it’s full,” Shea says.

“I think two hours around here is a bit silly, I don’t think it’s long enough. A four hour limit [on residential streets] would be more reasonable, especially in the next blocks over – maybe not in the immediate area,” Smith says.

There’s the rub. Whose responsibility is it to provide adequate parking? Is it up to the council to increase the parking time restrictions on residential streets, the hospital that needs to provide reserved parking in the multi-deck or the State Government’s responsibility to bolster the public transport available in the area?

“They [BHS] need to look at the requirements for people working the night shift and take responsibility to look after their staff. They’re blaming the local Council when we’ve helped them. There are many solutions and blaming someone else is not a solution. That’s why we’ve offered City Oval, that’s why we gave $2.4 million,” McIntosh says.

“Staff safety is paramount. Longer-term car parking needs to be seriously considered, especially when there’s frail people involved,” Shea says.

“It’s a tricky one for sure,” Smith says.

“I look forward to the hospital working with us and responding to challenges,” McIntosh says.

 *Names have been changed