Saturday, November 18, 2006

The hazards of parking-ticket policy
Nov. 17, 2006

I’ve seen at least six cycles of the Victoria parking-ticket debate since moving here 17 years ago. They all basically unfold the same way.
It usually starts with the City of Victoria musing about collecting more money by increasing the parking fines. Pretty soon, downtown merchants join the debate, questioning the impact on their customers of whatever new parking policy is being discussed at the time.
Eleven years ago, for instance, downtown businesses sounded the alarm about a plan to give commissionaires handheld computers that instantly identified drivers with 10 or more unpaid parking tickets. Such cars caught at expired meters were to be towed.
Businesses feared the vigilance was going to be a problem for some of their customers. But as the habit has been in the past decade or so, the city went ahead anyway.
Back then, the city brought in $2 million a year in ticket revenue. It’s now almost $4 million.
The changes have been particularly aggressive under Mayor Alan Lowe’s time in office, so it’s a bit disingenuous of him to be speculating this week whether vigorous enforcement of the city’s parking laws could be putting people off the downtown.
In Lowe’s time as mayor, the city has doubled the basic parking fine to $15 from $7.50. For those who don’t pay tickets promptly, the fine for leaving a ticket unpaid for two weeks or more jumped in 2004 straight to $35, up from $20. (Two weeks! What other bill collector can demand the equivalent of nearly 3,500 per cent interest?)
Lowe tried to argue in 2000 that ICBC should deny insurance and licences to people if they had outstanding parking tickets. That’s not the kind of guy who comes easily to the concept of backing off on parking enforcement.
Still, a man can have a change of heart. And the city’s parking laws are surely due for a look after more than a decade of steady increases. What impact has that had on the downtown?
The problem is one of conflicting interests. Downtown merchants want people to come downtown to do business, not go home steaming over yet another ticket. The city wants that too, but is also very fond of the $10.4 million that parking revenues generate annually.
The commissionaires just want to do their job, which they do efficiently and well if you think about it from their point of view. Meanwhile, customers just want to park somewhere not too far from their destination, and not have to pay too much for the privilege.
If the goal is to root out errant parkers, we’re doing a great job. For downtown businesses, however, the issue isn’t quite so clear-cut. They want parking space to be available for their customers, but at the same time fear the impact of rigorous parking enforcement on those same customers.
The city likes the money. Who wouldn’t? Downtown parkers are sitting ducks, waiting to be tapped for at least $15 any time they overstay their welcome. Boggle them further with mushrooming fines, mysterious “small car” designations and rules about allowable distances from the curb, and you’ve got yourself a nice source of revenue.
Unfortunately, that clashes significantly with every business strategy around attracting and retaining customers. A business wants things to be easy and pleasant for its customers. Having one leave your store only to find their car ticketed, even towed - it’s not good.
Common wisdom holds that if parking enforcement is too lax, the streets will jam up with downtown workers instead of shoppers. People will choose the streets over the parkades, and suddenly another $4 million revenue source for the city is in jeopardy as well.
Would it happen that way? A pilot year could reveal a great deal, and allow the testing of any number of different strategies. Increased enforcement and higher fines are certainly our tried and true strategies, but that’s not to say they’re the right ones.
Using parking as a cash cow in times when the downtown needs a shot in the arm is quite a gamble. Such a delicate balance can’t be struck simply by asking commissionaires to lighten up. Policies that turn the downtown into a punitive place to visit are directly opposed to business interests in bringing people downtown.
The city’s standard reaction to such concerns over the years has been largely limited to pointing out the number of parking spaces in the downtown, and reminding people to try out a parkade. But for those seeking an easy welcome for their customers, a lecture on parking habits just isn’t on. As every downtown merchant is acutely aware of, the mall is just minutes away.
‘Tis the season - what could be cheerier than Lowe’s promised rethink of parking policies? When the rules hurt more than they help, something’s got to give.


Anonymous said...

Yes when we visit Victoria we no longer go to our favourite stores as the parking fees are too steep and if delayed in a restaurant it suddenly doubles the cost of the meal.

Anonymous said...

More bike racks downtown and secure bike storage would help out as well ...there are many in Victoria who would prefer to ride their bikes downtown but without a secure place to leave them, opt for the car instead.

Anonymous said...

For the life of me I cannot understand why Victoria has ex military folks doing the ticket enforcing. and I'm long term ex military myself. Vancouver and Toronto have younger folks as a rule doing the job. Sort of a entry into city work. There are no commissioners, if they are ex military and finished a career in the forces,who don't have a military pension, probably Canada Pension and for some the OAP. Give the youth a chance to get such a job. What a good way to get them started. Mind you a few of the commissioners look like somebodies kid rather than what commissioners always used to be. Retired folks. My God they carry tape measures to ensure nobody gets a inch over some line. In Vancouver the ticketing folks all have a certified, stahd up in court pace. I've never really found parking to be that onerous, but really dislike seeing some of those guys peeking around the corner waiting for the flag to drop.Like they have a mission in life and without them the city would grind to a stop.

Anonymous said...

Victoria used to be a good place to shop. Not now, high parking costs, high meter costs, few spaces and high prices in stores who don't really want local business but prefer tourists.

Even the low cost yearly plan for people with Disabilities went from $20.00 per year to $50.00 per month.

Any wonder only the rich and the "have to go there" crowd choose downtown and why the rest of us go to the free parking malls?

Even our Multi-culteral week went else where due to size and now has gone due to costs. Gone are the days of Langos for $2.00 and we now have a city that can only afford to house the rich.

We've priced ourselves out of the market for the average person/family.

Under $12,000.00 per year