Free or subsidized parking could be the way to revitalize large central business districts that are still reeling from the financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

A new National Australia Bank Behavioral Economics survey found people are still reluctant to return to work in CBD locations, but would be swayed if parking costs were lower.

The country’s largest investment bank found that six in 10 Australians had either stopped or limited their visits to CBD locations after mandatory work-from-home orders sparked a mass exodus of office workers from poor area.

However, 30 percent of those polled agreed that free or discounted parking would encourage them to return to work in the CBD.

The report also found that not being able to socially get away on public transport and the lack of life or vibrancy in CBDs deterred the desire to visit.

Dean Pearson, director of behavioral economics for the NAB, said some form of “push” or incentive would help bring life back to metropolitan areas.

“We still see some reluctance among consumers to use public transportation, but I think free or subsidized parking would definitely help,” Pearson said.

The Melbourne and Sydney CBDs have been particularly hard hit by the exodus of office workers, with retailers such as cafes and bars still grappling with the loss of their core customer base.

About 21% of those polled said free or discounted public transport would encourage them to return to work in the CBD.

“CBD revitalization is vital to the livelihoods of many CBD businesses, especially small businesses, which rely on foot traffic,” Pearson said in his report.

“Cities cannot remain economically sound without the businesses that typically make urban centers their home base.”

A previous NAB real estate survey found that the majority of companies were looking to reduce back office space to around 80% of pre-pandemic levels.

Mr Pearson noted that young people were more interested in returning to metropolitan CBDs.

However, he signaled that work trends related to COVID-19 are likely to continue and will prompt a rethinking of how urban areas have developed.

“CBDs will remain fundamental places where people want to work, meet and socialize,” said Pearson.

“Having a CBD address is really appealing, but we see the role of the office evolving towards this hybrid model.”

Ana Marinkovic, head of small business banking at NAB, said the bank recommended workers return to CBD offices at least two to three days a week.

“Downtowns tend to be the heart of the community,” she said.

“We should be encouraging people to go back to these places.”

Major events, catering vouchers and more green space were also factors that would encourage a return to the city center, NAB found.


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