McQUARRIE – Prince George proves free downtown parking can work

KAMLOOPS — Let’s ban parking meters from downtown! Okay, now that I have your attention let me add, I’m serious.

Parking generates approximate $1.2 million in revenue for the City. Serious money indeed, and it might even cover the city’s payroll for four or possibly five days out of the year. But it is also a source of frustration for many and missed sales for downtown merchants.

Besides, you might be interested to know we wouldn’t be the first to abolish the long-despised meter or the less than user-friendly Kamloops parking kiosk. Prince George decided it would be a step in the right direction and made it part in their downtown revitalization plans. In the process, they learned a few lessons, made some adjustments, did some fine-tuning and, in the end, came up with a free parking system that works well.

Prince George began its meter-free program by imposing a 3-hour parking limit in the downtown core. To manage the time restrictions, bylaw officers began to chalk tires and would issue tickets to anyone staying beyond the limit.

Unfortunately, they quickly discovered that a number of employees in the area took to using it as all day free parking and just before time was up, they’d dash outside to wash the chalk off their tire. A city staffer noted in a report that one restaurant in particular took it a step further and had staff going out to remove the chalk from customer vehicles.

So something had to change. But rather than the easy route of falling back to meters for everyone, the city purchased a vehicle able to drive along the streets taking photos of plates. A few hours later, the city vehicle would return and, if it found matching plates at the same location, a ticket would be issued.

To help encourage motorist honesty, fines for parking violations were also increased. That, in turn, helped make up for some of the lost meter revenue.

The city went a step further by having affordably priced all day parking lots in the core downtown area.

Kamloops, of course, is not known for innovative thinking or actions, especially when it comes to parking. Creative solutions and edgy thinking are not words that come to mind when I’m asked to define city council.

Our current, maybe-well-sort-of-but-I-might-resign-in-a-few-weeks-mayor-for-the-moment answer to most questions involving money has always been something like, “What service or program do you want to give up in order to implement this idea?” Which begs the question, why hasn’t he been thinking of ways to make things better and shouldn’t he be answering that question? Call me crazy, but I was under this foolish impression that we elected politicians to come up with ideas, not toss questions back in our faces.

If Prince George can do it, then we should be able to find a way to make it happen here. For the cautious, shy, don’t rock the boat politician, why not at least try it out for a summer? You already have a working model in a similar sized city with most of the bugs taken care of.

It’s the busy tourist season and what a great way to bring them downtown. People would start dropping into town to enjoy a coffee or lunch on a sidewalk patio and maybe hang around for some shopping afterwards.

Those who own businesses or buildings downtown are paying some of the highest tax dollars around. Maybe this would be a good way to keep them here and invested in the community and our future. How many empty stores or offices do you need downtown before that $1.2 million in parking meter revenue becomes penny wise but pound foolish?

I’m tired of local politicians who can’t find it within them to champion causes, reform and new ideas. If you think free parking downtown is a stupid idea and bad for local business, step up to the soapbox and say so. On the other hand, if there’s even the slightest chance the idea might have some legs, then make it your idea and make it work.

A meterless downtown levels the playing field for merchants, attracts visitors, creates a real sense of vibrancy and could become an initiative that kick starts redevelopment and growth in the core of our city.

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