It could soon cost a little less to park at Winnipeg’s paid street spots if city council approves a new cost-cutting proposal.
A Winnipeg Parking Authority report recommends a 75-cent decrease in the hourly rate and for that price cut to arrive within two months of a final council decision.
The change comes after dozens of Exchange District businesses lobbied council for lower parking rates in recent months, arguing the current price repelled customers so much that some companies were forced to shut down.
Obby Khan, owner of the Shawarma Khan restaurant on McDermot Avenue, said the proposal would offer much-needed relief.
"I think this reduction will help businesses immensely. I think it will bring people to the core again," Khan said.
City parking rates currently cost $3.50 per hour in high demand and hospital areas and $2.50 in lower-demand zones.
The high-demand area is, largely, located in the downtown and Exchange areas.
Since the city increased parking rates by $1.50 an hour in early 2018, Khan said multiple businesses have shut down and his business suffered a 20 per cent drop in sales.
"A lot of businesses suffered, a lot of businesses had to close due to these decisions and it really hurt the downtown core and the Exchange District core," he said.
With his own Exchange restaurant expected to remain closed until at least mid-June due to the pandemic, Khan said the parking relief is especially needed right now.
A city report says the rate reduction is based on an economic analysis that considered parking demand and would cost the city $452,000 annually in lost revenue.
In a comparison with nine other Canadian cities, Winnipeg’s current average hourly parking rate is the highest, the report notes.
David Pensato, executive director of the Exchange District BIZ, said his organization has asked for the parking rate analysis for three years and expects it will help ensure a fair rate.
"I’m glad to see the numbers out, I’m glad to see the analysis. It looks fairly relevant and well-presented," said Pensato.
The city also saw a decline in on-street parking demand over the past few years. In 2017, an average of 85 per cent of stalls were occupied during peak hours in high-demand areas. The number dropped to 62 per cent in 2019.
Randy Topolniski, chief operating officer of the Winnipeg Parking Authority, said the proposed rate cut should increase demand for paid street parking.
While the report is based on pre-pandemic demand, Topolniski said the rate cut should also help Winnipeg businesses recover from COVID-19 losses.
"We think that this reduction will further support the notion of bringing people back downtown," he said.
Topolniski said the city hopes the change will help its downtown parking occupancy rate reach 85 per cent, a target meant to ensure regular parking turnover and availability.
A public service report predicts the parking authority will see pandemic losses that are "far greater" than $500,000, though it did not note an exact figure.
Coun. Matt Allard, the chairperson of council’s public works committee, said he will support the parking fee reduction.
"I think, definitely, the 75-cent reduction is warranted, both to get to that vacancy rate that we’re looking for… and (to better compare to) other major cities," said Allard (St. Boniface).
Even if the hourly parking rate falls, council will still face questions over why it shot up by $1.50 in 2018.
Khan challenged the city to reveal any parking data that supports a 50-cent portion of that hourly hike that was devoted to boost Winnipeg Transit funding.
"I really want to know how and why city council is justified in adding on an extra 50 cents," he said.
The city also commissioned a survey of 610 Winnipeggers in late 2019 for their views on parking.
The Probe Research poll found 61 per cent of those surveyed agreed cost is an important factor, but not the only factor, when they decided to purchase parking.
The poll is considered accurate to plus or minus four percentage points, with 95 per cent certainty.
A final council vote on the parking fee reduction could take place as soon as June 26.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.
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Updated on Wednesday, June 3, 2020 at 6:32 PM CDT: Corrects publication time.