A city plan to get more money from parking meters has Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark on high alert. He's ready to fight off any proposal to reinstall meters in his east Hamilton suburb.
There's no actual plan to do so, just a warning from city staff that parking meter revenues are down and the city will need to find new sources of parking revenue in the next budget.
But the Ward 9 councillor knows that means they'll be looking at Stoney Creek, where meters were removed just a few years ago.
After two years of bad experience with parking meters that saw up to 20 per cent of reduction in downtown business, Clark knows his residents will give a firm no to parking meters in the area's central business district.
'There was a very real fear that downtown would die.' —Ward 9 councillor Brad Clark
"To put paid parking in the (Stoney Creek) downtown core and force people to pay for parking to shop in the downtown core, there was a very real fear that downtown would die," Clark said.
Stoney Creek had offered two-hour free street parking before the city installed parking meters in 2010. It later removed them after public outcry. Businesses complained about losing 10 to 20 per cent of their customers during that period, Clark said.
If parking meters return to Stoney Creek, he explained, small businesses along the streets would lose customers to Eastgate Mall, the area's many strip malls and Walmart, all of which offer free parking.
Hamilton is facing a $676,000 budgeted revenue shortfall after the meters installed in Stoney Creek and Waterdown underperformed and were then removed. A report to council's general issues committee this week advised the city will address this shortfall in the budgeting process for 2014.
Ted Arnold, manager of parking operations, said the city has no plans to reinstall parking meters in those parts of Hamilton.
"We are not trying to put parking meters back in Stoney Creek and Waterdown," Arnold said. "There's no move adrift to do that."
The city, he added, has "no intention at this point in time to raise rates or expand pay parking areas in a dramatic way."
The city proposed to install both on-street and off-street meters in Stoney Creek, Ancaster and Waterdown in 2008 as part of its effort to find new revenue sources. But after what Clark described as a "virtual uprising," only on-street meters were installed in these areas in 2010.
But even the on-street meters didn't last long. They were destroyed by baseball bats and saws.
"As quickly as the meters were going up, they were being disassembled," Clark said. "They are evil."
Residents' anti-meter sentiment stemmed from their loyalty to the pre-amalgamated suburb, Clark said.
"It really is a city with a heart of a village," he said. "Even if we are part of Hamilton, Stoney Creek residents don’t feel like they are part of Hamilton… They expect for the most part to be treated much the way they were when they were still Stoney Creek."
The meters' unpopularity largely accounted for the $676,000 budgeted revenue shortfall. Staff studied the volume of traffic and estimated that meters could generate $128,000 in Stoney Creek and $48,000 in Waterdown. But the actual revenues were only $53,411 in total, $135,000 short of the original estimate.
Clark added that having no historical data also led to the "exaggerated" estimate.
While the city looks for new parking revenue sources, Stoney Creek is happy to remain meter-less.
"I have no expectation that anyone in Stoney Creek would be asking for it, and I have no expectation that city council would ever want to open up that debate again," Clark said.