CITY hall is looking at reducing street parking rates in the Exchange District by 50 cents an hour amid concerns from local business owners that high meter fees are cutting into their bottom lines.
On Tuesday, the public works committee will discuss a motion to cut the hourly rate to $3 from $3.50.
"I thought that the reduction in parking rates was a good idea," said Coun. Vivian Santos, who represents the Exchange. "I thought this would be a good step to regain the trust of business owners."
Parking has been a contentious issue for Exchange entrepreneurs, many of whom say current rates discourage people from patronizing the area. In November, nearly 70 Exchange businesses submitted a petition to city hall that calls for a strategic plan and consultation in regards to changes to the neighbourhood’s infrastructure.
Some people who signed the petition welcome the proposed decrease to parking rates; others are concerned it’s only a piecemeal solution.
"I think it’s a good gesture, but I still feel it’s a half or quarter step to a much bigger issue, and we need to address that," Shawarma Khan owner Obby Khan said Thursday.
He reiterated calls for a comprehensive plan relating to accessibility, construction, active transportation and other aspects of development.
"To a lot of people, metre rates are shockingly high, but it’s only part of the issue," said Jon Thiessen, owner of U.N. Luggage.
It cost $1 or $2 per hour to park in a metered spot before the city raised the rate to $3.50 in April 2018.
Santos said one of the reasons for the increase was to offset lost revenue, but the transit department’s 2018 surplus of $14 million indicated to her that the matter had been resolved.
"(The current parking rate) is a tax on people coming to the Exchange," said Thiessen, who suggested revenue generated by Exchange District parking be directed to improving the neighbourhood, not to the city’s general accounts.
The motion also proposes sliding-scale parking rates, with options for short-term rates — to grab a coffee or make a quick stop, Santos said — and premiums for long-term stays, "similar to what The Forks has implemented." However, The Forks uses hourly rates, and doesn’t use a sliding scale, said Clare MacKay, the executive director of The Forks Foundation.
Santos said the parking authority will be asked to determine the loss in revenue to the city if the parking rate is reduced. If approved, it may take several months before being implemented. She plans to consult further with business owners.
"All these things made sense, so I thought better late than never to get talking about it," Santos said about the motion.
Since the petition was submitted, Khan said he’s had positive discussions with Santos and Mayor Brian Bowman’s office, but so far, he’s had little luck getting the ear of the rest of council.
"The issue is, how do we get the other councillors on our side?" he said. "It seems the city is divided where councillors care only about their riding, and not the overall vision for the city."
If public works passes the motion on Tuesday, it must be considered by other civic committees.
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.
Updated on Thursday, January 2, 2020 at 6:57 PM CST: Fixes typo