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More broken thinking on parking

Guelph's downtown parking system used to pay for itself, and be stable and sufficient. Last fall, a pilot project was introduced to provide free 2-hour parking (after which you have to leave, not pay) at most meters downtown. The city estimates it is losing $700,000 this year as a result.

There has been little mention of how this has impacted downtown business' bottom lines or the city's property tax revenue from the core, both of which would certainly be enlightening. We are feeding money into downtown. Are we getting a return on our investment?

The city's immediate reaction to the loss of $700,000 in parking revenue is two-fold. The first is a proposal to raise transit fares to increase revenue by around $500,000 per year. While the official reason is to keep transit fares as uncompetitive as those of our neighbours, it seems to be mostly off-setting the cost of free parking downtown. This free parking downtown means that more people are going to go by car than by bus, and we clearly need to fund this through increased transit fares.

The second reaction is to wonder what to do to create more parking spaces. The answer seems to be to build approximately 800 net new spots at a cost of $30,000,000, about $250 for every man, woman, and child in Guelph, in the form of 2 500-stall parking garages built on existing parking lots.

The City's parking pass fees have not gone up over the last several years either, while bus fares have risen from $1.50 to $2 per trip, an increase of 33%.

The City commissioned a study of residents' reaction to downtown's free parking and found that making parking for free is very popular. This isn't at all a surprise, and should not be used as an argument to make more parking free longer, as it only perpetuates the vicious circle we are in. The trouble, though, seems to be that our politicians still have to get elected, and unpopular decisions, even if they are the right thing to do, are very difficult to make.

Given all this, I have to ask, is Guelph ever going to start "Making a Difference"? Parking lots, low fees, and high bus fares certainly aren't any different from last century, but our City's official new motto says we're going to try. My challenge to Guelph is this: let's start "Making a Difference" by putting transit fares and parking fees on a level playing field. Shall we?

Posted at 11:12 on April 18, 2008

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