City axe poised over park-and-ride fees

Mayor’s push to scrap charge will cost $4M

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - JA­SON MARKUSOFF

Mayor Na­heed Nen­shi has mused of tak­ing a sledge­ham­mer to park-and-ride pay ma­chines, and a ma­jor­ity of al­der­men on­side with scrap­ping the $3 fee are close to mak­ing his dream come true.

Nen­shi will lead the push at next week’s bud­get de­bates to elim­i­nate the grum­ble-in­duc­ing charge at LRT lots, and work with col­leagues to try to off­set the more than $4-mil­lion bite that would take from city rev­enues.

Al­though sim­i­lar at­tempts were re­peat­edly quashed be­fore the new mayor was elected last month, the Her­ald has learned that eight of the 14 al­der­men now sup­port a move that will de­light thou­sands of reg­u­lar park-and-rid­ers — and those who’ve stopped us­ing the lots.

“It is ex­tremely, ex­tremely un­pop­u­lar,” said rookie Ald. Gian-Carlo Carra.

“If it was $1, it wouldn’t be so bad. Now, it nearly dou­bles our tran­sit costs,” said Bri­dle­wood res­i­dent Pam McLaugh­lin.

Mak­ing up the lost rev­enue with­out dent­ing tran­sit ser­vice, main­te­nance or se­cu­rity — while also low­er­ing the pro­posed 6.7 per cent hike to mu­nic­i­pal prop­erty taxes — won’t be the only chal­lenge for the new coun­cil.

Coun­cil will also have to try stem­ming the old prob­lem of lots fill­ing up and over­flow­ing be­fore dawn, and jus­tify elim­i­nat­ing a fee that Cal­gar­i­ans and out-of-town­ers have in­creas­ingly come to ac­cept.

Pay lots went from 56 per cent ca­pac­ity in Septem­ber 2009 to 62 per cent a year later, and up to 65 per cent in Oc­to­ber as the weather got colder, ac­cord­ing to Cal­gary Tran­sit.

Karen Guttormson, an oc­ca­sional park-and-rider at Som­er­set-Bri­dle­wood sta­tion, said it’s still much cheaper than down­town park­ing.

“I’d use it re­gard­less — but it would be eas­ier on the pock­et­book,” she said.

Craig Fal­lows has used the lot daily since his en­gi­neer­ing firm stopped of­fer­ing him free down­town park­ing six months ago, and ap­pre­ci­ates that it’s not hard to find a spot near the sta­tion at 6:30 p.m.

“I don’t com­plain. When it’s go­ing to be free, it’s go­ing to be worse,” he said.

But to the new mayor, whose north­east com­mu­ni­ties have only been fill­ing the LRT lots to one-third ca­pac­ity, the pub­lic’s grow­ing ac­cep­tance and city hall’s grow­ing re­liance on the rev­enue stream doesn’t mean the fee should stay.

“We have to have a phi­los­o­phy of how we charge taxes and user fees and tran­sit fees and ev­ery­thing else in the city, based on what’s the right thing to do, not what can we get away with,” said Nen­shi, who mused days af­ter get­ting elected about the sledge­ham­mer photo op.

In his corner on this is­sue are Dale Hodges, Jim Steven­son, Gael MacLeod, Ray Jones, Carra, An­dre Chabot, Shane Keat­ing and Peter De­mong — all ques­tion­ing why the city would ap­par­ently pun­ish res­i­dents who heed the city’s ad­vice and take tran­sit.

Nen­shi said his plan will come with a pro­posal for a reser­va­tion sys­tem to charge for guar­an­teed park-an­dride spa­ces, and also some­how limit the early over­flow prob­lem.

The fee was in­tro­duced for the 2009 bud­get to help Cal­gary Tran­sit bol­ster se­cu­rity and pro­vide pre­vi­ously lack­ing main­te­nance for the lots.

It will bring in $4.7 mil­lion this year, less about $400,000 in over­head costs, ac­cord­ing to city fig­ures. With the in­creas­ing use, the bud­get es­ti­mates the park-and-ride ma­chines will reap $5.2 mil­lion next year.

With nearly all the free park­ing lots used, and many users from sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties such as Cochrane tak­ing ad­van­tage of the ser­vice that only city tax­pay­ers cov­ered, of­fi­cials wanted to fol­low the lead of cities such as Van­cou­ver, Toronto and many in­ter­na­tion­ally.

“We didn’t have the fi­nan­cial ca­pac­ity nor did we re­ally want to spend or in­vest more land in park­ing,” said Neil McKen­drick, the city’s tran­sit plan­ning man­ager.

“So the $3 park­ing charge puts a value on park­ing that didn’t ex­ist be­fore . . . it does help us man­age what’s a pretty valu­able re­source.”

He ac­knowl­edged the op­po­si­tion to the fee, but noted that now peo­ple who want to park-and-ride at 10 a.m. or mid­day can find spa­ces. And in many ar­eas, com­plaints and tick­ets for spillover park­ing in pri­vate lots or com­mu­nity streets is down, he said.

“I think it’s be­cause peo­ple who get to a park-and-ride lot know they have to pay,” he said. “They make that de­ci­sion be­fore they leave the house.”

Mean­while, tran­sit found that use of LRT sta­tions’ feeder buses went up once the $3 fee came in. It dou­bled at Whitehorn sta­tion, where the lot that was nor­mally half-full on week­days is the city’s least-used lot, at only 16 per cent ca­pac­ity in Septem­ber.

Il­le­gal park­ing on nearby res­i­den­tial streets has got worse there.

It was al­ways bad around Joyce Arnold’s house on Whitehorn Drive. But since the fee, LRT users’ park­ing habits have of­ten made her park a block away from her front door.

“That’s not great if you’re in your 50s and had gro­ceries,” said Arnold, whose com­mu­nity as­so­ci­a­tion is try­ing to get the per­mit-park­ing re­stric­tions other LRT-area neigh­bour­hoods have.

The fee has had other trickle-down ef­fects on sub­ur­ban park­ing — like the deep-north­west res­i­dents who fill up Edge­mont Boule­vard to catch buses to the LRT, and the Bap­tist church near Franklin Sta­tion that now im­poses a $2 daily fee to pre­vent over­flow­ing of its own park­ing lot.

Alds. John Mar, Gord Lowe and Brian Pin­cott are more re­luc­tant to force sav­ings else­where by ax­ing the $3 charge, de­spite charges it is an un­fair penalty for tran­sit rid­ers.

“Park­ing is not free, and (it) was be­ing sub­si­dized by the rest of the tran­sit users and that is not fair ei­ther,” Pin­cott said.

Druh Far­rell and Diane Col­leyUrquhar­t could not be reached for com­ment, but both voted to re­tain the $3 fee last year.

Ald. Richard Poot­mans said he’s un­de­cided, but he’s among the new al­der­men who want to ex­plore a reser­va­tion sys­tem that will help re­tain some park­ing rev­enue, as it has for years at Fish Creek sta­tion.

“There is a mar­ket — maybe a small mar­ket — but I think there are those that would like a re­served stall,” he said.

Colleen De Neve, Cal­gary Her­ald

Pam McLaugh­lin is one park-and-ride user who will be happy to say good­bye to the $3 fee if the city elects to scrap the charge dur­ing bud­get talks. “If it was $1, it wouldn’t be so bad. Now, it nearly dou­bles our tran­sit costs,” she said.

Colleen De Neve, Cal­gary Her­ald

Pay park­ing at LRT sta­tion lots could soon be a thing of the past.

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