Downtown Victoria parking habits nudged in new directions

 

Victoria’s new parking strategy, designed to draw more people into parkades while freeing up street parking, appears to be a runaway success.

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The city introduced initiatives in September to increase parking- spot turnover on streets.

“We’ve been getting unbelievable support from the public and local businesses,” Ismo Husu, manager of parking services, told councillors Thursday.

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of vehicles being parked in parkades, city staff say.

Compared with 2013, vehicles parked in city parkades increased 10 per cent in September, 29.9 per cent in October, 19.3 per cent in November and 31.1 per cent in December. Most vehicles are being parked for three hours or less so the turnover rate in the parkades remains high, staff say.

Changes in September included making the first hour in parkades free and reducing hourly rates; free parking in parkades after 6 p.m.; designating long-term parking on upper levels; eliminating free street parking permits for staff and elected officials and replacing them with parkade-only permits; and improving safety in parkades with increased security and a SafeWalk service for those who want to be walked to their cars.

At the same time, the city introduced variable fees for metered street parking. The cost for parking within a three-minute walk of a parkade was increased to $3 an hour while rates for more outlying or less-used stalls were reduced.

Staff had estimated an annual drop in parkade revenue of about $750,000 due to the changes, but expected that to be offset by a corresponding increase in on-street revenue due to the rate increases for the meter parking closest to parkades. According to Husu’s report, that is exactly what is happening.

Since the changes, there have also been an additional 43,000 downtown parking transactions, resulting in a $61,000 increase in revenue over the same three-month period in 2013.

The city spruced up parkades through deep cleaning and fresh paint; provided staff with customer service training; introduced new payment options and a parking app; and held meetings with members of the Corps of Commissionaires, who have the contract for parking enforcement, to confirm customer service expectations.

The SafeWalk program has been heavily used at the Bastion Square parkade, with 80 to 120 customers using the service daily. The city’s other four parkades are seeing only one or two calls a day. Staff suggest heavy use at Bastion Square may be due to the fact an additional security guard is stationed at the back stairwell where he meets and greets users and offers assistance.

Councillors congratulated staff on the program. “As I do run a business downtown, this is such a welcome report,” Coun. Margaret Lucas said. “I have heard such great things from people who work downtown, tourists and residents.”

Mayor Lisa Helps said she was struck by the 43,000 additional parking transactions. “I don’t care how you read that, cars don’t drive themselves downtown. That means more people are coming downtown. So for all the hubbub about downtown, more people are coming down here,” she said.

The city also implemented gentler parking enforcement. Ten per cent fewer parking tickets are being issued now that parking enforcement officers are allowed to make judgment calls when speaking to motorists who are returning to vehicles at expired meters.

Customer service staff at city hall have discretion to cancel challenged tickets if it’s determined that a full review is not needed. Phone calls, visits and emails with parking review staff are down almost 15 per cent and violations taken to traffic court decreased to 216 in 2014 from 423 in 2013, the staff report says.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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