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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Parking overhaul pitched for downtown

Convenient new technology, plus $50 parking meter fines.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 26, 2017 at 7:48 PM

click to enlarge Swear we had some Halifax parking meter photos around here somewhere that we had the rights to. Oh well, you know what they look like. - VIA ISTOCK
  • via iStock
  • Swear we had some Halifax parking meter photos around here somewhere that we had the rights to. Oh well, you know what they look like.

Downtown drivers should brace for changes in how they park on city roads.

The cost of an expired parking meter in HRM could double later this year—up from $25 to $50 per violation. Planning chief Bob Bjerke said during budget talks this week at City Hall that the revenue is needed to cover increasing service costs.

“The truth is, if we don’t increase the fines for parking violations than we’re not able to fulfill our mandate,” said Bjerke. “We know historically what our revenue stream is, and we think this is something that’s doable if you increase the fine, per se.”

The news came as a surprise to council, and prompted the representatives for HRM’s urban core (Sam Austin, Tony Mancini, Waye Mason, Lindell Smith and Shawn Cleary) to release a joint letter on Thursday downplaying the fee changes and assuring the public any increases won’t take place until at least late summer.

“We will ensure that there is public engagement with residents and businesses regarding the parking bylaw before a final decision is made,” reads the statement. “While there remains many issues to work out, a fee review will be a good step for business, our downtowns and mains streets, and for HRM.”

Halifax’s $25 parking tickets—$20 if paid within seven days—are low compared to most other cities in Canada. Tickets start at $30 in Winnipeg and Toronto, $45 in Moncton and $70 in Vancouver. All-day parking downtown at Scotia Square, by comparison, is only $20.

Given the low cost, the tickets don’t act as much of a deterrent. The urban councillors say they’ve heard from downtown businesses that people are parking too long or all day, which decreases turnover and makes life difficult for shoppers.

The trade-off for higher fines, HRM hopes, will be a more convenient parking system. The planning department wants to replace Halifax’s 1,700 coin-fed parking meters with electronic pay stations starting later this year.

Spokesperson Brendan Elliott says the new technology will sharply reduce repair costs and also increase revenue thanks to more flexible service. The pay stations will allow (pending a rewritten parking meter bylaw) time-of-day metering, better tracking of parking times, and crucially allow drivers to feed the meter from their smartphones.

“Even if you’re in a meeting and your time runs out, you can still be in your meeting and pay more,” says Elliott. “It’s really going from 1960s technology to 2020 technology.”

The $4.4-million technology upgrade—and fee increase—is still pending the approval of council. Any Motor Vehicle Act bylaw changes will also need provincial approval, which could take another year. Both could prove difficult if the public and downtown businesses show strong opposition to what some would call an indirect tax.

Ahead of those concerns, the Downtown Halifax Business Commission launched a “parking pitch” on Thursday afternoon containing several alternative ideas to make parking “if not convenient, then less frustrating.”

“The discussion at HRM council yesterday of increasing parking fines, in isolation of real tangible parking improvements, is being seen negatively by businesses,” writes executive director Paul MacKinnon in a release. “What we need is a series of changes to the way parking works downtown. Many of the pitch actions are actually fairly easy to implement.”

Among other ideas, the business commission is pitching a new city-run MetroPark-like parking garage, a “gentler and more-customer friendly approach” to enforcement and the removal of free parking on evenings and weekends.

“Removing this free parking would be very unpopular, but would definitely create greater availability,” says the DHBC. “This is not a recommendation, but should be considered.”

The meter upgrades are part of the Planning and Development department’s $5.3-million budget proposal for 2017/18, which is up slightly by $120,000 from last year. According to the department's presentation, HRM collects an average of $4 million in revenue every year issuing 171,000 parking tickets.

Correction: This story originally lacked some clarity regarding the bylaw changes needed to allow for smartphone meter feeding. It's been updated to include that info. The Coast regrets any confusion.

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