A CHRISTMAS freebie aimed at drawing shoppers into the city centre has been axed.
The Alive After Five initiative – which has seen parking charges waived after 5pm for a month over the festive period for the last two years – has been scrapped despite previously being hailed as “a great success”.
The city council said research showed free parking was not as a big an incentive for bringing people into the city centre as knowing that shops were open late.
A total of 53 roads in the city centre, West End and East End were included in last year’s scheme, which ran from December 2-28, with shops encouraged to stay open until 7pm.
The council had described the initiative as “popular with shoppers” and “a great success” at the busiest time of year for the Capital’s retailers.
But the scheme has been dropped for this year, leaving motorists to pay the full cost of parking if they choose to drive into the centre to do their Christmas shopping or visit the festive attractions.
However, city centre businesses accepted the scheme had not been a key factor in attracting people into town.
Andy Neal, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, which operates the city-centre business improvement district, said surveys showed free parking was not the crucial issue for people.
He said: “We did the research and the council in that sense was right. The decision not to have free parking this year was not really about cost-saving.
“What we found was that people being confident that the shops were going to be open in the evening was much more important than being able to get free parking. Free parking was not really cited as a motivator in getting people in.
“I do not think free parking was a major influence. I don’t think most people were aware of it – it was a pleasant surprise for them.
“The main thing that brought them in was knowing the shops were open late.”
Essential Edinburgh, the council and Marketing Edinburgh each put in about £10,000 to the scheme last year.
Josh Miller, a member of the George Street Association, agreed the free parking initiative no longer seemed the best use of money.
He said: “Free parking does not seem to have been a key factor. There is a limit to how much benefit there really is from it.
“It seems to be that free parking is no longer the best way of using that money.”
He said the arrival of the trams had made a difference to people’s attitudes and behaviour.
People were not bringing their cars into the centre as much, so free parking was no longer such an incentive.
“What has happened is we have learned to use the city differently – it has evolved. We have access to the city now because there are no tram works and the tram is running.”
Green councillors opposed Alive After Five, saying encouraging cars into the city sent the wrong signals and argued the £96,000 lost in parking revenue between the Christmas campaign and a similar one in the summer was money which could have been better spent.
Transport convener Councillor Lesley Hinds said: “It was decided, following research carried out for Marketing Edinburgh and Essential Edinburgh, that free parking after 5pm was not as great an incentive as extended shopping hours in terms of enticing late afternoon and early evening shoppers into the centre of town.”