Hot topic:
should councils charge outdoor training fees?

In each issue of Personal Trainer Network we ask a selection of Network members to share their views on an issue affecting our industry. Here we canvass opinion on councils charging fees for outdoor training.

In recent years outdoor training and boot camp-style operations have become a fixture of Australian public spaces. From the pre-dawn beach brigade, to the lunch-hour park-punchers and post-work stair-runners, personal trainers are taking fitness outside like never before. So, should they pay to do so?

If a personal trainer is using a public space for commercial purposes, is there any reason they shouldn’t pay a fee? If an ice-cream vendor or a bicycle hire company has to pay a fee or licence to operate in a public space, why should it be any different for a PT? One argument is that, unlike the paddle-pop pusher in the musical van, personal trainers are helping to create a fitter community and put a dent in society’s obesity problem. But couldn’t the same be said for the bike hire company? And although the best personal trainers are passionate about creating a fitter, healthier nation, they are also training their clients to make a profit.

Of course, if their presence in the park or on the beach is not costing the council money by damaging the land or property, where is the justification in charging? Is it pure opportunism on the behalf of councils – nothing more than a ‘cash grab’? And if a charge is put in place, should the proceeds go directly towards park improvements, public health schemes or a free exercise program for the community?

So… Should councils charge fees for personal trainers to conduct outdoor training and boot camps – and if so, what is a fair system?

 

Simone Campbell,
Summit Fitness Studio
,
Wollongong NSW

‘Yes, councils should charge fees. As the owner and lead trainer at Summit Fitness Studio in Wollongong, I have been working with council since our opening in 2009. Licensing trainers to use crown land has introduced a system of governance that protects the public by ensuring outdoor PTs are registered, certified, and insured. To the benefit of the trainer, the site licensing means we can secure exclusive rights to training grounds. For the community, the fees are a means of receiving monies from those who are profiting from use of public land, money which can be reinvested by council to develop and maintain facilities for everyone to use – and we all benefit from this.

What is a fair system? A fair system is a system where all PTs can bid for all locations, and where fees are scaled, based on the size of the operator. The current fee structure can make it very difficult for a small business to compete, as it will cost a trainer with only three clients the same amount in fees to secure a site as it does a large multi-trainer outdoor gym with 30+ clients on each site. At Summit Fitness our focus isn’t profit, it’s passion, and we pride ourselves on our ability to deliver personalised service to small groups. We don’t want a system that forces operators to increase fees, we want a system that promotes an active and healthier community.

I have enjoyed a very positive engagement with Wollongong council and firmly believe that together, council and the fitness industry can shape a world class system.’

 

Ken Baldwin,
QPEC,
Mansfield QLD

‘In most cases I believe that this is a money making grab for the councils who have seen the explosion of outdoor group training in their precinct. They feel that the facilities provided are being damaged by the PTs or are stopping people from using the area for playing or relaxing in.

I do see the council’s perspective: it has to pay for the maintenance and upkeep of the area, and if this is overused by large groups it gets run down quite quickly. I have also seen trainers who still use the facilities when there are signs up to say the park is closed and to stay out, and this gives trainers a bad name.

Councils also have to keep their residents happy and should not have to deal with complaints about lots of noise in the early hours of the morning due to large groups of people making excessive noise. So, the proximity to residential buildings, the facilities available in the public space, and the potential level of disruption to other people need to be considered.

From a trainer’s perspective, our ability to prevent further obesity and health issues by providing exercise alternatives to those people who would not go to a gym should be encouraged by councils and health care providers. Less cost to the health system means less cost to the tax payer. Parks and outdoor areas are there for everybody to enjoy and, like everyone else, we as trainers already pay to use these areas through our council rates.

But trainers also need to be aware of the general public when using parks or beaches. We should keep our numbers to small groups of no more than 10 to 12, and avoid making our training sessions a ‘loud and proud’ military circus where it is all about making as much noise as possible.

In my opinion, the solution is for councils to charge trainers a small fee of around a couple of hundred dollars a year, which would be a flat fee across the board, rather than the complicated and exorbitant fee structure that some councils are implementing. This may, potentially, even be incorporated into the trainer’s insurance policy.

We can’t always get everything for free and, as is the case with everything in today’s society, we are moving to a ‘user pays’ system.’

 

Jonno Hook,
Jonno Hook Personal Training
,
Sydney NSW

‘Indoor training makes perfect sense if you live in Helsinki or Dubai. Much of Australia, however, has a temperate climate that is perfect for year round outdoor activity, and the very idea that outdoor training is banned or discouraged by some councils is ludicrous.

We have an abundance of public land and parks, but like most of the world we have limited retail and residential space. It is universally accepted that people need to be more active, and that either needs to happen inside or outdoors. I feel that we have two directions that can be pursued in response to that;

  • We create more gyms and sports centres, machines and equipment and provide more widespread and affordable access to indoor training.
  • We nurture a regulated use of parks and outdoor public areas for residents to benefit from the expertise of qualified fitness professionals that balances the needs of residents, trainers and councils.

As an exclusively outdoor trainer, I am biased. In my opinion, the second option has so many strengths it would be foolish not to embrace it as a way to augment the current dominance of indoor gym/studio-based training.

Am I saying close down gyms? Not at all, but the environmental benefits alone should see both local, state and even federal governments backing and furthering the use of parks for personal and small group training. Among the benefits are zero power usage for machines, lighting, air-conditioning and heating; reduced equipment manufacturing; and potentially reduced commuting for clients.

And the benefit of this to the public? Reduced costs to the trainer/business owner equates to more affordable service offerings. The ease of entry to the market for new trainers, alongside low overheads, translates to more widespread access to these services. Cheaper, more widely accessible personal training? That is definitely something we should strive for, and I feel that all levels of government' policy should echo that sentiment.

In my opinion, there needs to be:

  • A single state-wide annual fee (in the low hundreds of dollars) that allows for the administration and management of outdoor trainers by a central body.
  • Rules of conduct that balance out the needs of residents, trainers and clients – and fines for those that breach them. These should be enforced by the councils and all fines kept by the councils.
  • A requirement for trainers to provide evidence of current insurance and qualifications in order to register.
  • The money collected for registration should be used to cover both the central administration of the system and also allocated to individual council precincts based on the concentrations of trainers using their suburbs to allow them to administer the system on the ground.’

 

Chad Davis,
Step into Life
,
Beaumaris VIC

‘Council’s first priority should be allowing its residents the best possible access to healthy living in their area, and encouraging them to be active. Outdoor group personal training, such as Step into Life, needs to be as affordable as possible to encourage as many members of the local community as possible to get involved – indeed these trainers are providing a service to the community that councils currently do not fulfil. High council fees, like those recently implemented by Bayside City Council (below) in accordance with the DSE (Department of Sustainability and Environment) will force many trainers to increase fees to a level that will be unaffordable for many people. In most cases, these businesses may not be able to survive.

Table 1: Changes to charges made by Bayside City Council (VIC)


Fee Schedule 1 July – 30 June 2013 1 July 2013
Annual Fee $110.00 $255.00
Use fee – per participant per session $1.10 $2.40
Use cap fee $5,500.00 $12,500.00

This, in my opinion, is not a fair system. An annual, reasonable fee for group trainers and one-on-one PTs is the fairest and simplest way for councils to monitor the training in its area. This fee will give a permit to the trainer based on them supplying the proper indemnity and insurance upon application.

One major reason tabled by council for these large fees is the upkeep of its land. But, while sports groups such as football clubs that wear boots with studs have a major impact on grounds over the winter period, fitness groups have little more impact than general public use, and therefore no increased work is required by council for upkeep of these spaces. Most participants are rate payers and therefore already pay for the general upkeep of the land in their local area, so they shouldn’t be charged again.

Councils should be supporting and even supplementing outdoor health and fitness for its residents, not charging high fees. And, interestingly, it is looking as though all the money made through this policy will be soaked up in administering policy, rather than being specifically reinvested into upkeep and improvements to the outdoor spaces.’

 

Rob Di Francesco,
Militaryfitness.com.au
,
Balmoral NSW

‘I think it is fair for councils to charge trainers small fees to use public areas for training. What I object to is councils charging exorbitant fees of more than $1,000 per annum to use public space. Trainers simply don’t register or pay when councils adopt overpriced policies.

Having a license system is great because it allows council some regulation over activities conducted in the area. By ensuring trainers provide proof of insurance and First Aid certification on application, and follow some straightforward rules, this system rewards the trainers who do the right thing and run a professional business.

Thanks to the hard work of long established trainers in the area, Mosman Council in Sydney has the best policy in place for personal trainers that I have seen, and it should be applauded. The council has a fair annual price of $200, for which trainers receive a license card and the option to have their business displayed on the council website.

The council asks that you use common sense when running sessions and think about the community around you and not just what suits you. There is great communication between the council and the (currently) 43 registered personal trainers in the area, and we are encouraged to get to know the local Rangers and vice versa. They view us as an asset to the community.

Interestingly, Lane Cove Council in Sydney has recently adopted a similar policy to Mosman Council – because it works. Under its previous policy, Lane Cove Council was proud to admit that it didn’t have a single personal trainer registered or paying to train in its municipality!’

 

Katrina Cochrane,
Sydney NSW

‘Outdoor training provides variety to our clients and the opportunity to explore new training concepts by utilising local facilities. For people who feel intimidated by both the gym environment and the costs associated with it, training in an outdoor setting provides a cheaper, more comfortable alternative.

Outdoor personal trainers are not only providing a safe and effective environment, but are also educating the general public on how to make the most of their local facilities.

Having such alarming figures in relation to obesity and other clinical health issues throughout Australia, not to mention the costs to our national health budget, you would expect local and national government bodies to encourage all forms of physical activity by allowing the free use of ‘public’ parks and facilities. I appreciate costs being applied with heritage listed parks, but feel trainers should not be charged when using public domain and trying to combat the obesity and clinical health epidemic throughout Australia.’

 

Do you train clients in outdoor public spaces? Whose stance do you agree with – should councils charge a fee for private enterprises, and if so, which fee structure is best, or should they be doing everything they possibly can to encourage physical activity among their constituents?