City set to cash in on push-button parking

After losing buckets of money on vandalized meters, Victoria expects its new parking pay stations to be more secure and more lucrative
aparc temp.jpgIf time is money, its no more evident than downtown where the decision to replace Victorias parking meters will start paying dividends this year.

Thanks to vandals and thieves turning parking meters into headless poles, the city was losing parking cash hand over fist. When the dust settled, parking meter revenue last year fell $868,716 short of the citys $4.95-million budgeted estimate.

But with the phasing in of new pay stations to be completed downtown by the first week in April, city staff are projecting to make that back and more budgeting $5 million for meter revenue in 2010.

That money accounts for half of what the city makes from parking: In 2008, Victoria raked in $15.8 million through its 1,900 meters and five parkades, and from parking fines. After costs are factored in including maintenance and staffing of parkades, and the $1-million contract with the Commissionaires for enforcement the citys net parking revenue was a little more than $10 million.

We did lose a lot of money because we had close to half of our metered spaces with no meters in them, said Victor Van den Boomen, Victorias manager of parking services. So people were getting the 90 minutes but they werent required to pay.

It made sense, then, for the city to spend $3 million on the new parking system, which is harder for thieves to crack. There were a number of criminals that had figured out how to get into our old individual meters, Van den Boomen said. The thieves would pop the glass dome off the old meters, throw away the mechanism and fish out the coins.

They got wind of what we were doing with the new system and they ramped up their theft of the old meters. So we were in a real battle to try to keep meters in place and we ended up losing that battle. We lost, I think, 800 meters that were just the posts, no parking meters.

At two bucks an hour and the average pay parking in effect for about nine hours a day, its easy to see how important a revenue source parking is for the city. Each of the 1,900 spaces has the potential to generate $108 a week or $5,616 a year, for a total of more than $10.6 million a year for all the spaces.

Last spring, the city started installing the new parking system, which works on a pay-by-space principle.

Following a successful trial, the city decided to replace all of the meters with 1,900 numbered spots and 270 pay stations. It will be another six weeks before the last of the meters are gone and the new pay stations installed the final ones going right downtown.

The system works like this: After finding a parking space, a driver walks to the nearest pay station, enters the space number and pays with cash, credit card or a city parking card. Theres no need to return to the vehicle to put the ticket on the dash.

There are some definite advantages.

The system doesnt start the clock until the pay parking period begins, which means if you are heading for a 9 a.m. meeting, you can park and pay for the stall in advance, but it doesnt start charging you until 9 a.m.

Likewise, downtown residents who park on the street no longer have to drag themselves out of bed just before 9 a.m. to beat the commissionaire. They can pay at the parking station for the stall the night before and sleep in.

Also, you can use any of the 270 pay stations. So if you park near the Inner Harbour and find yourself in Chinatown an hour later as your time is running out, you dont have to walk all the way back to top up the meter. As long as you remember your stall number (which is printed on your receipt) you can buy more time at any nearby station.

The new parking stations also accept credit cards, which is more convenient for many people a factor the city thinks will make onstreet parking more attractive, and push up its revenue.

Finally, you can reclaim money for time you didnt use if you use a city pay park card. Theres a $5 onetime fee for the card which comes with $25 worth of parking for a total cost of $30. When you reload the card, you pay only for the parking. The advantage is if you return to your car early, just pop the card into the pay station, and it will refund the remaining money.

But there are, of course, downsides.

Gone are the days of pulling into a parking stall to find 20 minutes left on the meter. With the pay-byspace system, theres no way for a motorist to know whether that vacant space has already been paid for. (While a downside for drivers, this is an upside for the city there will likely be a boost in revenue from this double-paying for one spot.) And, of course, it is a change from a tried-andtrue system.

Im hearing that there are a number of people who are a bit confused by them and its going to take some time for people to get used to them, said Bruce Carter, CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce.

But I also have [heard] that city hall has been very good at noting when people have made mistakes and in turning tickets around. Todd Litman, founder and executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, says resistance is part of any major change to traffic or parking systems.

He used building a traffic circle as an analogy. The first time you introduce it, motorists go nuts. Then within about a year they become accustomed to it and its easier to put the second one in.

But probably one of the best things about the new system is that it will allow the city to tailor its parking objectives in ways that werent possible with meters.

You can have different rates at different times. You can have adjustable fees based on the type of vehicle you have. You could do all kinds of things, Litman said.

Thats exactly the type of initiative the city will consider, Van den Boomen said. The new pay stations allow the city to track the activity of each stall, and currently its piloting extended parking hours on View Street near Cook Street.

So now we can say theres a yoga place on Fort Street that takes more than 90 minutes to do whatever they do there, so they can park on View Street. We can say, Hey thats working. Or, if no ones buying the three hours, we can change it back to 90 minutes. But its definitely allowing us to provide a better level of service.
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