Parking meters slated to vanish from downtown

The City of Ottawa is nearing the final stages of a project that will change the way people park in the city while increasing the amount of money it makes from parking.
The city is moving closer to completing an agreement with a company to install about 600 pay-and-display machines, which are expected to increase on-street parking revenues by $1.7 million per year.

The company, Precise ParkLink, guarantees a revenue increase. That is partly because drivers will not be able to use up time left in meters by earlier drivers, and partly because more vehicles will be able to fit on streets after meters are removed.

People would be able to use credit cards and smart cards to pay for parking. The city is also looking into a method of paying by cellphone.

Its long overdue, having this technology available, said Councillor Maria McRae, chairwoman of city councils transportation committee.

McRae said the system will be more convenient for drivers, while bringing in revenue for the city.

City council voted 17-6 in April to go ahead with a process for selecting the company to run the new system.

A staff report to be presented on Wednesday to the transportation committee recommends that the deputy manager of city operations be given the authority to finalize and execute an agreement with Precise ParkLink.

Six of Precises pay-and-display machines will be installed over the winter to evaluate their performance during cold weather.

One potential concern is that the machines LCD screens could slow or stop working in extreme cold.

Precises technology has shown the capacity to operate in extreme cold, but there is the potential for reduced display screen performance when temperatures drop below a certain level, the staff report says.

If any issues arise, the city will not proceed with the contract until they are resolved to the citys satisfaction, the report says.

McRae said she is confident that the city will be able to work through any potential problems with the company.

Once an agreement is completed, 100 additional machines will be installed during a test phase expected to start in April 2010. The remainder of the machines are expected to be installed between June and August.

The 10-year contract would see the city get park-and-display equipment installed by the company, at its cost, with a promise that revenue will rise by 25 per cent.

The city is to begin paying for the machines using the increased revenue in the last five years of the contract.

The net gain of the program at the end of 10 years, once the machines are paid for, is expected to be about $4.9 million.

The pay-and-display parking model isnt a new one in Canada. In Toronto, on-street pay-and-display meters have been in use since the city amalgamated in 1998. The city has installed 2,600 machines and continues to phase out coin-operated meters.

Victoria is in the midst of installing 270 pay-and-display machines throughout the downtown core. The city expects to bring in $5 million a year, about $1 million more than with parking meters.

Calgary has taken on-street parking one step further. Since 2007, drivers in that city have been able to pre-pay for parking online and then dial a number from their cellphone to register each time they park.

It brings Canadas capital into the 21st century, McRae said.

The process in Ottawa has not happened without some controversy. Some councillors were concerned that the process favoured Precise after the company made an unsolicited proposal for the parking system in December 2007.

Senior staff decided the proposal would be dealt with under the Ottawa Option, through which a company that suggests an innovative idea is able to match competitors bids. The inclusion of a revenue guarantee was deemed to be the Precise proposals predominant innovative factor.

Some councillors said allowing Precise to match bids on the project was unfair and would discourage firms from competing for the contract.

However, a fairness commissioner has been assessing the project and, in an interim report dated Oct. 29, wrote it had been undertaken in a fair, open, consistent and transparent manner.

The city received one competing proposal after issuing a request, but an evaluation committee determined it did not comply with minimum requirements.

Under the proposed ParkLink contract, the city remains in charge of determining policy around when and where paid parking will apply, along with rates and maximum parking times. The city is also responsible for other areas, such as bylaw enforcement and maintaining and updating signs.

The company must supply and operate the machines and ensure they are fully functional for 99.8 per cent of their service hours.

The city will consider keeping parking meters in areas with only one meter or where there is low use of paid parking.

Any net revenue received by the parking program will be contributed to a reserve fund to be spent on parking-related initiatives, such as lot and parking facility renewals and future replacement of equipment.

Most drivers interviewed by the Citizen Monday liked the idea.

Bill Newcombe, who was shopping in the ByWard Market, where the machines are already partly in use, said: I just used it. I wanted two hours of parking and I was trying to follow their directions and I only got one hour, he says with a laugh. So I have to wait and put another one in and start all over again.

Architect Kaska Gonera used the parking machines for the first time Monday. She had some trouble, but prefers it to parking meters.

I guess the advantage is that you can pay with Visa and not everybody has change all the time, so I think thats a plus, she said. Gonera accidentally paid for an extra ticket, and gave it to the next man in line.

The point is that the payment was made, so I dont really feel bad that it doesnt come from somebody elses pocket, she said.

The city is getting the money one way or the other.

Mary Gill, who was shopping at Mountain Equipment Co-op in Westboro, said the machines are too much of a hassle.

I prefer the parking meters on the side of the road, actually. I find sometimes these (machines) are difficult to use, said Gill.

Meanwhile, the city has received several submissions in response to a request for information regarding the pay-by-cellphone system.

Its estimated such a system would cost about $20,000, mainly for such things as signs and communications.

Users would be charged a convenience fee in order to cover system costs. That fee has not been determined, but standard fees are between 25 and 35 cents, the report says.
Precise ParkLink
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