What a difference a year or so, and a new council, makes.
In late 2013 the issue of downtown parking raised its head as the council of the day mulled bringing back parking meters and, in 2014 it drastically increased off-street parking rates only to scale back the increases after a public uproar.
Now Mayor Lyn Hall, who was one of the councillors who sought to re-examine off-street parking rates last year, has floated out the idea of lowering them even further.
“A number of months ago, we brought back the off-street parking issue,” he said at the regular council meeting Monday. “We talked about why the city doesn’t reduce the rates to entice people get into some of the parkades … Better to make a dollar than have it sit empty.”
Hall’s comment came after council was informed, by new bylaw enforcement manager Fred Crittenden, that the city currently has 318 vacant monthly stalls, which, if they were all being used, would put about $20,000 in city coffers every month.
“If we’re looking at that amount of vacant space, combined with fines not collected, it’s about a $350,000 (per year) hit,” Hall said.
Getting those who work downtown to use off-street parking more would also help alleviate the other downtown parking problem … the two-hour shuffle – people parking downtown and then moving their cars every two hours to avoid getting a ticket.
After much debate last year, council authorized $450,000 for a licence plate recognition system for downtown parking, which had been advocated by the Downtown Business Improvement Association (DBIA) and the Prince George Chamber of Commerce.
The hope was for a “cumulative” parking times rather than “consecutive,” which would allow more flexibility for motorists who move around during the day, such as salespeople.
The problem, however, is that there were no takers. A request for proposals received no bids. Crittenden told council it was because the technology to track vehicles’ movement within a downtown parking zone, over time, opposed to simply seeing if they have been in the same spot for more than two hours, doesn’t exist.
As a result, a new downtown parking plan is being developed and a revised request for proposals will be issued, in consultation with the DBIA and the Chamber of Commerce.
While disappointed the request for proposals didn’t get any results, the DBIA is happy to see that the city is still committed to resolving the parking issue downtown.
“We’re very pleased the city is pursuing licence plate recognition,” said Carla Johnston, DBIA executive director. “We don’t want the return of parking meters.”
Johnston said about 80 per cent of the people who work downtown are fine, but it’s the 20 per cent who insist on doing the two-hour shuffle who cause a problem. She said the licence plate recognition system for enforcing parking downtown will help deal with that issue.
As for possibly lowering off-street parking rates, Johnston was supportive as long as the revenue generated does not decrease. She said businesses downtown are not required to provide parking for their staff. As a result, about 200 businesses contribute, through a tax levy in addition to their regular taxes, approximately $800,000 to the city to help maintain the city’s parkades.
If the amount raised through off-street parking fees decreases, the city will then have to either increase the downtown parking levy or take money from general revenue, and the DBIA doesn’t support either of those options.
While licence plate recognition system may still be a little way off, council did make one change to downtown parking. It changed the bylaw outlining when enforcement of the two-hour parking limit actually begins from 9 a.m. to 8 a.m.