By Eoin English
The company which runs four of Cork's largest multi-storey car parks has launched a loyalty app offering cashback and rewards to encourage shoppers into the city.
And amid ongoing debate over the impact of the daily afternoon car ban on the city's main street, the city's largest pedestrian shopping district, Opera Lane, says sales in some of its stores are actually up in recent weeks, compared to the same period last year.
The details emerged as the city's Christmas lights were due to be switched on at 7.15pm this evening, and ahead of a raft of sales promotions in the run-up to Black Friday.
Q-Park said they hope their new Q-Park Rewards app will help create a "high street eco-system" that will benefit the entire city and a spokesman encouraged retailers and restaurants to sign up free to be part of the scheme.
He was responding to questions from the Irish Examiner on foot of criticism from city councillors of private car park operators last week.
After days of sustained criticism of the car ban, councillors backed the car ban last Monday after a new, free, late-night parking initiative was unveiled in the council's Paul St and North Main St car parks.
During the debate on the city's 2019 budget last Thursday, councillors said private car park operators should do more to incentivise city trade.
Q-Park, which runs the Grand Parade, Carroll's Quay, City Hall and St Finbarr's car parks, said they have not seen any "significant changes" to "parker numbers" since the reintroduction of the bus priority lanes in August, but declined to provide specific figures, citing commercial sensitivity.
The spokesman said they offer a number of promotions throughout the year, and offer 30% off normal tariffs when customers book online.
But he added: "We have also launched a new loyalty app in the last few days which allows for visitors to the city to receive rewards/cashback for parking and retail/restaurant spend in the city.
"We would also stress that Q-Park are not commercialising the retail/restaurant agreements but are hoping to create a high street eco-system whereby we help improve the city centre economy. We would recommend to any local business, big or small, to contact us to join the scheme."
SoHo bar and restaurant on the Grand Parade validates parking for its diners who park in Q-Park’s car park between 5pm and 2am.
Meanwhile, Opera Lane, the pedestrianised shopping precinct just off St Patrick's St, said sales in some of their stores are actually up in the period September-October compared to the same period last year.
They declined to supply specific data to queries from the Irish Examiner, but in a statement, a spokesperson said retail is very challenging - not just in Cork, but everywhere.
"There are very many complex variables at work which affect sales," the spokesperson said.
"According to many Opera Lane traders, the introduction of the new traffic regulations and bus priority lanes on St Patrick’s St has not affected sales overall and in fact, several stores traded ahead of the same period 2017 in September and October.
"We believe that as Opera Lane is a pedestrian street, our customers are used to finding their way into the area on foot and this has worked to our advantage.
"Since the introduction of Black Friday, November now tends to be a quieter month as customers wait for our special offers to start.
"Some Opera Lane stores will launch their Black Friday sales on Monday with up to 50% off seasonal collections. These offers, combined with the Christmas light switch on last night will add to the excitement and atmosphere in the city centre and we expect the build to Christmas to be strong."
Meanwhile, the National Transport Authority (NTA) has effectively ruled out the introduction free public transport in Cork to help the car ban bed in.
Worker's Party Cllr Ted Tynan urged the NTA to follow the example of Dunkirk, where buses are free.
But in a statement, the NTA said it is preparing the Cork Transport Strategy "with cost-effective measures and plans" being considered to further promote public transport use.