That was the strong message from some 200 angry Cork city centre traders last night who voted unanimously to support calls for the controversial three-week-old afternoon car ban on the city’s main street to be abandoned.
They agreed to pack the public gallery in City Hall next Monday for a council meeting which will be asked to discuss a motion calling for the ban to be scrapped. They threatened to picket some of the 250 free multi-storey parking spaces availed of by city council staff unless the decision is reversed.
About 50 people said they were prepared to withhold their commercial rates unless the council abandons the initiative.
And they vowed to push an overwhelmingly positive message to customers that despite the 3pm to 6.30pm car ban on the city’s main street, the city is alive and open for business.
The moves were agreed during a Cork Business Association (CBA) organised meeting of traders in the Imperial Hotel at which speaker after speaker slated the new traffic system.
The ban was introduced by the city council on March 27, creating a time-regulated bus lane from 3pm to 6.30pm, in a bid to improve bus journey times.
It is one part of a wider city centre movement strategy, agreed in 2012.
Bus Éireann says the car ban has reduced journey times on two key suburban routes — in one case by almost 30%. However, city centre traders say the move has decimated afternoon trade.
CBA president Philip Gillivan said customers have been confused by the new traffic system and have opted to stay away.
He said traders are fearful, frustrated and angry.
“The council needs to step back and reverse the changes and give traders breathing space,” he said.
CBA chief executive Lawrence Owens said the reversal of the scheme is now the only option.
“We’ve been too nice for too long. Now is the time to be focused. Unity can bring a lot. Let’s work together on this to get this decision reversed,” Mr Owens said.
The CBA has circulated some 2,000 questionnaires to survey city centre traders on the impact of the car ban.
The results will be presented to city council chief executive Ann Doherty early next week.
It is understood that Ms Doherty has cancelled plans to travel to San Francisco as part of a civic delegation next week, opting to remain in Cork to deal with controversy sparked by the traffic plan.
Meanwhile, the Cork Choral Festival was officially opened last night.
It is poised to inject up to €12m into the local economy.
It will feature hundreds of of competitors from all over the world participating in choral performances at several venues across the city, as well as on-street performances every day right across the weekend.
‘People think city has shut down’
Traders in Cork City have united behind efforts to get the afternoon car ban on St Patrick St scrapped.
Some 200 business owners last night attended one of the single largest meetings of city centre traders in recent years and vented their anger at City Hall over the new traffic management system introduced on March 27.
They said afternoon trade has slumped and they agreed a series of measures in a bid to ramp up pressure on city bosses, who have appealed for the new system to be given three months to bed in and be assessed.
Trader after trader who spoke last night said the car ban has hit footfall and turnover, generally by between 29% and 40%, and in extreme cases by up to 70%, and they just can’t afford to wait that long.
John Conlon, the manager of Merchant’s Quay car park, revealed that while in 2006, 818,000 cars parked in the car park, the figure slumped to 564,000 last year. He said there was a 7% drop in car park usage in the week after Easter this year, compared to the same period last year.
President of Cork Business Association (CBA) Philip Gillivan said the car ban was a tipping point, coming after a three-week bus strike last year, lane closures of St Patrick St for 11 weeks last summer, and two major storms.
“Retail and hospitality were already fragile,” he said.
English Market fishmonger Pat O’Connell said he has spent his life promoting the city’s positives but the time has now come to speak out about the impact of the car ban.
“I think traders were prepared to give this traffic movement strategy a chance, but the public has decided enough is enough, and that they just don’t need the hassle,” he said. “When your income is down by up to 40% and you see your staff twiddling their thumbs, you have to speak up.
“It’s time for sensible people to sit down and come up with a logical solution. What I’m hearing from my customers at my counter is town is just too much trouble.
“A city without people is a graveyard. This is really, really serious. No business can take a 40% hit over three months to prove a point. The signs are there.”
Richard Jacob, the co-owner of Idaho Cafe on Caroline St, said he was tired of traders being accused of being negative about the new traffic system.
“We have a room full of people who love our city. The negativity came from City Hall the day they put gardaí on the street and shut down our city. They must change the decision.”
Restaurateur Michael Ryan, who runs the Cornstore and Coqbull, said his early-bird trade is down.
“Everything that’s been done is being done retrospectively. It’s firefighting. They are not listening to people on the ground. If we treated our customers the way they are treating us, we’d have no business,” he said.
Standing room only in a packed @ImperialCork for tonight’s meeting for concerned business people in the City.— CBA Cork (@CBA_cork) April 18, 2018
Good to see 7 Councillors & members of the media including @EoinBearla & @CiaraRevins @RedFMNews pic.twitter.com/4j9SbXvPL3
John Grace, of Grace’s Fried Chicken, said the city has been “on its knees” for a decade, trying to compete against online shopping and suburban shopping centres and their free parking.
“This is the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said. “They have free parking in the suburbs. Something needs to be done to rebalance that. We needed parking initiatives long before.
“The city council is being propped up by traders but the rates model is broken. They can’t keep bleeding traders when the city centre no longer has the monopoly.”
Michael Reidy, of Le Chateau, whose family has been involved in the pub trade in the city since 1933, said the car ban has sucked the atmosphere from St Patrick St and he called for the positives to be promoted.
Pam O’Regan, of Gentleman’s Quarter, said if people want peace and quiet, they can go to the countryside. “We can’t afford to wait three months. At 3pm, it’s eerie. People think the city centre has shut down,” she said.
Carole Horgan, who runs a business in Winthrop Arcade, said the city is now like Thomond Park without the supporters.
“They have taken the spontaneity out of retail. We have to let our customers, who are our supporters, back in,” she said.
Butcher John Boylan, who chairs the English Market Traders’ Association, said people should be reminded that the city is still alive. “We must let customers know that it is a great city,” he said.
Solicitor Kevin Nagle suggested a picket on the city council’s free car park spaces unless it scraps the car ban.
“We should picket their car park until they realise what it’s like to survive in the city. They will form a completely different view of what it’s like in the real world,” he said.
Sheila O’Brien, of Scoozis restaurant, said her staff are now worried about their jobs. “We depend on local people. Tourists come and go, but we need our local people. We don’t have a business without local people,” she said.
Kevin Herlihy, who runs Centra stores on Oliver Plunkett St and Grand Parade, said he couldn’t understand how five gardaí can be deployed to police the car ban, when he had to wait two-and-a-half hours for a garda to arrive last year after a robbery in one of his shops.
Fine Gael councillor Des Cahill told the meeting it is never the intention of city council to make things worse, but added: “If the consequences have had a bad effect, we may need to move back.”
Fianna Fáil councillor Ken O’Flynn, who has tabled a motion calling for the car ban to be suspended, warned that the city will die unless something is done soon.
“This cannot continue because people will be out of business in the next few weeks. I know of businesses that can’t pay staff next Friday,” he said.
“We now need to take the shame, accept that we’ve done wrong, and fix the situation, and fix it as quickly as possible.”
Free parking in North Main Street & Paul Street car parks – enter the car parks from 12 noon, pay for 2 hours parking and get the next 2 hours free.— Cork City Parking (@CorkParking) April 18, 2018
Free Parking in Black Ash Park & Ride – enter the car park from 12 noon and park for free #corkparking https://t.co/mwMwwmcrmw pic.twitter.com/LSEpL8Bz2q