Get ready to fork over an extra loonie.
On Tuesday, crews started to reprogram 143 pay stations on high-demand streets downtown and in the Exchange to increase hourly parking rates to $2 from $1. The meters will be adjusted to accept the new loonies and toonies at the same time they're modified for higher parking rates.
The Winnipeg Parking Authority's Colin Stewart said it will take about a month to upgrade the machines, as it takes technicians about an hour to reprogram each one. Upgraded meters will be marked with a sticker, Stewart said, so motorists will know they must pay the higher rate and can use the new coins.
High-demand areas include one block on either side of Portage Avenue between Vaughn and Fort streets, on Kennedy, Edmonton and Carlton streets between Portage and Broadway, and on Broadway between Kennedy and Donald streets.
The move is part of a strategy to free 15 per cent of parking meters and allow nine of 10 motorists to find a spot within three blocks of their destination without circling the area in search of a free space. Most downtown streets restrict parking to two hours, and higher rates are expected to encourage motorists to park in a surface lot or parkade if they plan on staying in the area for a longer period.
"The reason we brought it in is to manage turnover on the street," Stewart said. "It's not meant for someone spending all day downtown."
He said the parking authority experimented with higher hourly parking rates at Health Sciences Centre to see if they reduced the number of hospital staff or visitors who plugged the meters or moved their car every few hours. Stewart said usage of on-street meters dropped and staff sought off-street parking.
Once crews finish reprogramming meters in the high-demand areas, all other downtown pay stations will be upgraded to accept the new loonies and toonies. Next April, the city will start metered parking one hour earlier at all on-street pay stations and extend downtown evening metered parking until 8:30 p.m.
Stewart said the total cost of the changeover is $300,000.
Downtown BIZ executive director Stefano Grande said it's tough to ask people to pay more, but the goal is to make coming downtown more convenient.
He said he hopes the move will help restaurants, retailers and professional services that regularly see clients who visit for a short time and often have trouble finding parking.
Grande said there are 3,000 on-street parking spots -- a fraction of the 33,000 spots available in downtown lots and parkades.
He said he frequently sees downtown employees who move their car a few feet every hour to hang onto a prime on-street spot.
"We all respect people who want the best spot, but we have to try and find a way to get those parkers to park somewhere else long-term," Grande said.