Brown Thomas against quays cycle route; wants cheap parking but licenses its name to car park charging more than city council

— UPDATED: Retailer says it only licences its name, does not own car park
— Retailer fails to mention deal with expensive car park to  Oireachtas Committee
— Sinn Fein TD calls cycle path plan a “matter of life and death”
— Fianna Fail TD challenges reasoning for increased sales in Dundrum

BT Car Park sign

A sign in the Grafton Street area pointing to the Brown Thomas car park

High-end retailer Brown Thomas has complained to an Oireachtas Committee about the planned Dublin quays walking and cycle route, and high parking charges — however the officially licensed Brown Thomas Car Park charges consumers more than the city council.

“To my mind, to make our towns and cities attractive, they must, first, be safe – customers must feel relaxed and at ease – second, clean and free of odours, litter and graffiti; third, easily accessible, including by the customer’s mode of choice, be it the car, bus, bicycle or on foot and, fourth, there must be easy and affordable parking,” said Stephen Sealey, managing director of Brown Thomas.

He was speaking to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation on the topic of Business Growth and Job Creation in Town and Village Centres.

The retail’s own-brand multi-storey car park — owned by an unidentified independently owned company — located to the rear of Brown Thomas’ flagship store on Grafton Street in Dublin charges €3.60 per hour — that’s more expensive than the city centre on-street rate of €2.90 per hour and the city council-owned Drury Street Car Park which charges €3 per hour (See more car parks in the area compared below).

Brown Thomas said on Monday evening that it has no control over the parking charges and that it does not own the car park.

At the Oireachtas Committee, Sealey said: “We need to address the issues within our control or that of the city council’s, I read in today’s edition of The Irish Times that Owen Keegan plans to introduce a new cycle lane on the north side of the city. The article states: ‘…restricting the road space available to cars was essential as part of a sustainable transport system … and it is not something that we have to apologise for’. I have a couple of points to make. First, we know from our own research that customers who travel by car spend 30% more than those who travel by other means. It is not difficult to accept this because a person who wants to buy a heavy or valuable product will probably choose to travel by car.”

On spending power, however, independent research by Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), the Report on shopper travel behaviour in Dublin City Centre published in 2011, shows that while shoppers who have travelled by car sometimes spend more per trip, people who cycle sometimes spend more on average per month and usually make more trips per month.

This reflects international research on shopping by bicycle which shows shoppers traveling by bike spend more overall. In the United States, protected bicycle lanes — also known as cycle paths — have been shown to boost retail sales by as much as 49% in some locations.

DIT report

IMAGE: Report on shopper travel behaviour in Dublin City Centre (DIT)

The bicycle user average of €228 per month on Grafton Street accounted for only marginally less retail income than motorists at €236. However, DublinBike users topped the survey with a monthly spend of €250.

In the 2011 survey, bicycle users accounted for 9% of shoppers, just slightly below car shoppers at 10% of consumers. The numbers of people cycling in Dublin has increased since the DIT research was published and it is likely that more people also now shop by bike in the Grafton Street area, with bicycle parking at weekends in high demand.

Buses transported most shoppers (35%), followed by walking (20%), rail (13%) and Luas (13%).

The researchers found that retailers on Grafton Street overestimated the amount of shoppers by car (by 30%) and by Luas (by 123%) and also underestimated use of walking, cycling, bus, and rail. “The role of walking was underestimated by half in the case of Grafton Street,” the researches wrote. “On Grafton Street, where bike has a higher mode share [than Henry Street] (9%), traders’ expectations are much lower than reality (4%).”

Sealey also tried to link current and possible extra congestion due to the quays walking and cycle route project with a lack of access to retail and less sales.

Percived vs actual: Modal use of shoppers on Grafton Street

Percived vs actual: Modal use of shoppers on Grafton Street; IMAGE: Report on shopper travel behaviour in Dublin City Centre (DIT)

“Second, delays or congestion will drive customers to other destinations,” Sealey said. “Shopping centres like the one in Dundrum provide a clean and safe environment, with easy access to parking. Data from our sales indicates that customers are voting with their feet. As I said, we operate in Dundrum and Blanchardstown shopping centres. Last year our store in Dundrum recorded a substantially higher growth rate than our store on Grafton Street.”

He added: “In fact, growth at the Dundrum store increased almost 12 times faster than at the store on Grafton Street. The rate of growth at the store in Blanchardstown was seven times faster than at the Grafton Street store.”

However, after questioning from TD Dara Calleary (Fianna Fail) on the differences between the city centre and out-of-town shopping centre stores, Sealey then admitted that the Grafton Street store is more high-end than its stores in Dundrum and Blanchardstown.

Peadar Tóibín TD (Sinn Fein) called the idea of a cycling path on the north quays a “matter of life and death”.

Tóibín said: “Providing a cycle path on the north side of the city is a matter of life and death. People will die in the next couple of years if a cycle path is not provided. Buses continuously cut off cyclists.”

He added: “While there might be a reduction in the net spend per individual, the challenge is to make sure the cycling leads to a reduction in congestion. That will lead to more people being in the town centres, which will offset that reduction in the net spend per individual.”

Brown Thomas has previously been reported as being against the College Green Bus Gate — at the time RTE reported that “13 businesses including Brown Thomas, Weirs, Louis Copeland as well as shopping centre and car park owners, will go to the High Court” to challenge the bus gate.

Consultants CB Richard Ellis were employed by the city council to assess the economic impact of the bus gate after it was put in place, but businesses against the public transport priority measure — including Brown Thomas — refused to reveal sales date to the consultants.

Historically, some city centre retailers have objected to measures such as Grafton Street pedestrianisation, which was delayed years because of retailer objections, and the original Luas project plans which included a link between the two lines. The link between the red and green lines is now under construction under the name Luas Cross City, 10 years after the tram system first opened.

Car park owners in the area were also among the few businesses to object to a business-led plan in 2012 to trial pedestrianisation on South William Street, just west of Grafton Street.

FOR THE RECORD: PARKING CHARGES COMPARED

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Parking signs in Dublin city centre

Stephen Sealey, managing director of Brown Thomas, said that the city center needs cheap car parking and claimed that “We need to address the issues within our control” — yet the  Brown Thomas Car Park, which is licensed by the retailer and literally in their own back yard, has the second highest level of car parking charges in the areas around Grafton Street.

The charges advertised on the Brown Thomas Car Park website are as follows: €3.60 for 1 hour, €7.20 for 2 hours, €10.80 for 3 hours, €15.40 for 4 hours, and €3.60 per hour after that. As well as an evening rate ofThe Fitzwilliam Dublin Hotel Car Park also on  Glover’s Alley €8.

Just 300 meters away, the city council-owned Drury Street offers a rate of €3.00 per hour, and evening rate of €5, an all night rate of €8, and all Sunday rate of €8.50.

About 150 meters away the Trinity Street car park is €3.50 per hour; a 400 meter walk will get you to the Fitzwilliam Dublin Hotel Car Park on Glover’s Alley with a rate of €2.90 per hour and an evening rate of €2 per hour; and 300-400 meters in the other direction will get you to the Dawson Street Qpark at School House Lane with a rate of €3 per hour.

We could find few more expensive examples, but these include Qpark locations at Stephens Green Shopping Centre at Glover’s Alley (at €4 per hour and €3.50 per hour after three hours) and Setanta Place, Molesworth Street (also €4 per hour).

On the northside, Arnotts offer €5 for the first 3 hours parking on presentation of a valid Arnotts receipt. The Jervis Street Car Park is €2.80 per hour with a €12.00 daytime rate; and just up the road is Jervis Street Shopping Centre with the same rates plus a €5.00 overnight offer.

MORE: Report on shopper travel behaviour in Dublin City Centre
MORE: KildareStreet.com: Joint Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, June 17, 2014

Clarification: It was wrongly said that the Brown Thomas Car Park in the control of the Brown Thomas company, as per the comments below, the retailer only licences its name for use to the car park owner. We apologise for any confusion caused.

4 Comments

  1. I used to live in Ghent, Belgium when the city wanted to introduce city centre wide pedestrianisation and a great reduction of car traffic. Shops and businesses were up in arms as it would kill the city centre: “No one will come shopping anymore”. It was fortunately introduced a bit later.
    A few years ago a new city council wanted to bring back cars in large parts of the city centre. Guess who was greatly opposed: shops and businesses as “people will feel unsafe walking to our shops”. This time the change fortunately did no happen.

    True story…

  2. Stephen Sealey June 30, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    I would like to point out to Cian Ginty that Brown Thomas does not (unfortunately!) own the Brown Thomas car park. This is independently owned. We licensed the name to the operator because it identifies this car park as the nearest to the store. We have no control at all over the pricing.

  3. Hi Stephen,

    I’ll adjust the article to reflect what you have said.

    Is the company or body which runs the car park registered at the store’s address? Because these seems to be no Dublin-based company other than those registered at the store’s address who are registered with the CRO as to be allowed to trade under the Brown Thomas name.

    The CRO states on its website that: “Registration of a business name is obligatory if any individual or partnership (whether composed of individuals or bodies corporate or any combination of both) or any body corporate carries on business under a name other than their own true names. Its purpose is to make public the identities of those individual(s), partnerships or corporate bodies being the legal entity behind the business name.”

    The car park website uses your brand but it has no other company name or contact details on it. Business name and contact details are a requirement for business websites.

    Regards,

    Cian Ginty
    Editor, IrishCycle.com

  4. A bit of a weak excuse. Maybe Brown Thomas should consider severing ties with a company that seems to be against their philosophy then. How much stronger would their argument have been when they could have shown the Car Park bearing their name has reduced prices.

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