City axe poised over park-and-ride fees
Mayor’s push to scrap charge will cost $4M
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.
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.
Pay parking at LRT station lots could soon be a thing of the past.