I sold my car several weeks before I headed to PNG for a gig, substituting my own apathy toward public transport for the kindness of friends, only to realise how much I needed my own legs.
Having lived in a large southern city before moving to Cairns, I had never really needed a car. Public transport was adequate at best and most services catering to the needs of an inner city millennial were within walkable distance.
Why would urban life in a large southern city be any different to life in a small-er regional city?
My blissful ignorance was put in check as I came to the cruel realisation that Cairns without a car was difficult.
This wasn’t an inner city suburb.
Public transport was still inadequate and cycling, although a part time love of mine, would only cramp my hustle muscle in the torrid tropics.
This was a small-er city; something less then a big city but definitely more then a country town. I don’t think an in-between word has been invented yet, but if there were a word, it would be used to describe Cairns.
And as much as the urbanist in me evangelised over the need for Transit Oriented Development everywhere, I now find myself biting my tongue a bit more. I am almost convinced that having a form of personal mobility in Cairns is a convenience that borders necessity.
I’d also go further in saying that this is a sentiment shared by residents of regional cities and towns across Australia; owning a car, or several, is about necessity. Not because Public Transport is inadequate or unavailable, but simply because regional cities and towns are just different.
Owning a vehicle is a precept of belonging to the ‘regional’ identity. This might sound deterministic but it is part of the culture because all the cool places worth visiting are accessible with the aid of a car. Beyond that, it is the liberty that a car offers you that is essential to the lifestyle we in the regions enjoy.
As much as the inner city yuppies think it ‘green’ and good to walk to their café, we, in regional cities, and towns, know that it is necessary to drive to our watering holes.
Any attack on this is an attack on our regional identity.
So the more I became a Cairns-ite, the more I grew accustomed to owning a vehicle, leaving all other forms of mobility in the dust. But it wasn’t without its own perils.
I admit some part of me is still a city-boy, I sit in cafes for hours, and when I do decide to move, I prefer speed.
Both terrible combinations if you own a vehicle.
Parking fines. Speeding fines. Not good at all.
I was a bit aggrieved then when Cairns Regional Council reached a unanimous resolution on Wednesday 6th December to rise the cost of parking in the inner city. Not only that but they have taken Free Parking Sunday’s away and extended the hours of regulation from 8.30am to 6.00pm.
It won’t make me stay away from the CBD, but it will influence how long I linger in the city, which probably means my net spend in the CBD would fall anyway.
To council’s credit however, they are improving the parking situation around the Hospital Precinct. The doctors and nurses need it. Those high school students around the corner need it. And God forbid the day I break a bone and have to wait for hours in line to see someone, I will need it too.
That was a well thought out move by council.
But it still bothers me that $5.9m was spent on the upgrade of a parking station that is under-utilised by locals. I believe the only time I ever used it was as a vantage point to watch a fireworks display.
But maybe that will change with the opening of the aquarium, the nearby hotels and the growing popularity of the two universities in the CBD.
If it doesn’t, at least it’ll be a nicer spot to watch the fireworks from.
-Cheer Hans Lee