The city approved a plan in December to replace about 4,000 meters with 600 solar-powered pay and display machines. ((Emily Chung/CBC))

Residents and business owners say changes to the city's parking strategy, including the installation of new pay and display parking meters, can't come soon enough.

The city approved a plan in December to replace about 4,000 meters with 600 solar-powered pay and display machines. Six new machines were tested in the ByWard Market in December, and 100 are being installed on Preston Street in May. The city expects all 600 new machines will be installed by the end of the summer of 2010.

   Number of paid public spaces per 100,000 population  
 City  2006  2007  2008
 Thunder Bay  3,208  3,208  2,996
 Windsor  2,062  2,062  NA
 Toronto  1,414  1,493  1,536
 Hamilton  1,355  1,337  1,345
 Sudbury  1,490  1,216  1,169
 London  818  773  813
 Ottawa  750  747  775
(Source: 2008 Ontario Municipal Benchmarking Initiative)   

It's part of a change in the city's parking strategy that residents say are overdue.

Scott Morrow, a former military serviceman who has lived all over the world, believes Ottawa's parking situation is one of the worst he's ever seen.

'There is literally zero parking'

"The only place I have ever seen that I would say parking is worse would be in the city of Cairo in Egypt.", said Morrow. "It's not a matter that the parking situation is getting sparse, there is literally zero parking."

The new machines are supposed to help. The city estimates moving to display machines eliminates the need for lines to mark specific spaces on the street, opening up roughly 10 per cent more spots.

But Ottawa still has a long way to go. In a 2008 survey of seven major metropolitan areas in Ontario, Ottawa had the fewest number of paid public spaces per capita – about 775 spaces for every 100,000 people. Toronto, by comparison, had almost double the number, with 1,536 spaces per 100,000.

Downtown has shrinking space

   Revenue per paid parking space ($)
 City  2008
Toronto 2,688
 Ottawa 2,201
 London 1,085
 Hamilton 1,021
 Sudbury 828
 Windsor 756 (2007 figures)
 Thunder Bay 449
 (Source: 2008 Ontario Municipal Benchmarking Initiative) 

The problem is most noticeable downtown. A comprehensive 2005 study found that developed floor space in the city's central core was growing while parking was decreasing slightly. In particular, the city has identified a number of downtown areas where paid parking remains a problem: Westboro Village, Elgin Street, and the ByWard Market.

A 2008 report from the city auditor said part of the issue with Ottawa parking was that the city had no central agency in charge of developing a strategy; rather, parking planning and enforcement was handled by the department of public works, the department of planning, transportation and environment, and by-law services.

"At present, there is no well-defined Council-approved directive that provides clear guidance to the 'Parking Function' within the City of Ottawa", said the auditor. "The lack of such a document leads city departments, in many cases, to work at cross-purposes to each other."

The city began to develop a parking strategy last year, a strategy that included the new meters.

Revenue to increase by $1.7M

But the city is also looking at changes with revenue in mind. It says the new meters will increase on-street parking revenues by $1.7 million per year, a hefty amount since on-street parking revenue in 2007 was just under $7 million.

Sheila Whyte, the executive director of the Wellington-West Business Improvement Area, says she's pleased local businesses are getting a seat at the table.

"We are pretty encouraged right now because the new parking management strategy at the city will allow a lot of local communities to make parking decisions," said Whyte, who owns the gourmet food store Thyme & Again.

Whyte had her own run-in with parking authorities after nearby roadside construction in November shrunk the size of the parking spot in front of her store to a space smaller than a car.

"My understanding is that they did intend it as a parking spot. It was just a little small," she said. "It was very bad for business to be having parking tickets when you are running in to buy a cup of coffee, a dessert or pie or that sort of thing."