British Columbia

Granville Island parking crisis hits tour bus operators in the wallet

Starting May 15 Granville Island is eliminating all tour bus parking and introducing annual fees for buses that want to drive onto the island.

Starting May 15 all tour bus parking will be eliminated and new annual fees introduced

Starting May 15, Granville Island is eliminating all tour bus parking and charging new fees for tour bus access. (Chad Pawson/CBC)

Like death and taxes, a Granville Island parking controversy is one of life's certainties in Vancouver.

The latest concerns tour bus operators who say they've been blindsided by news that starting May 15 Granville Island is eliminating all tour bus parking spots and introducing annual fees for buses that drive onto the island.

LandSea Tours president Kevin Pearce says it's unfair that Granville Island has introduced the new policies without consulting the tour industry.

One of Vancouver's most popular tourist destinations, Granville Island is located on federal land and operated by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. (CBC)

"It hasn't been thought out very well," he said. "Yesterday we had a [company] meeting and we said maybe we don't go to Granville Island anymore."

Cantrail Coach Lines general manager Dean Clark says the new fees are an unexpected hit to everyone's bottom line. 

"The big issue is that you set your rates a year in advance," said Clark. "Bus companies will end up eating this cost."

Granville Island currently has six free tour bus parking spots and charges nothing for island access. But spokesman Scott Fraser says the lack of regulation has led to mayhem and gridlock.

"I personally one day witnessed 14 or 15 buses trying to manoeuvre into those six spots," he said. 

"During our high season, which now starts in May and goes through October, we have too many buses trying to be here all at the same time. It impacts traffic flow, it impacts the visitor experience and it potentially impacts visitor safety."

According to the new policy, tour bus operators will be charged between $300 and $1,500 per year per permit, depending on the size of the coach and category of the permit.

Granville Island spokesman Scott Fraser says too many tour buses mean traffic gridlock on the island. (Chad Pawson/CBC)

"Online permits" are assigned to a single vehicle licence plate. The more expensive "physical permit" can be shared between fleet vehicles.

Tour buses with permits can access new passenger dropoff and pickup areas near the east end of the island, but will have to find parking elsewhere.

"It's this fee just to get in, just to drop people off — that's the shocking one. We're not even parking there," said Clark.

"And the transferable [permit], it just doesn't work. We tried this a few years ago with Stanley Park. If a driver forgets to turn it in, now what? And if the coach is just stopping at Granville Island and then heading to Seattle. and gone for 10 days, how do I get the pass from him?"

According to Tourism Vancouver, Granville Island draws 10.5 million people per year. (Vancouver Biennale)

Fraser says Granville Island's status as a major destination for both tourists and locals makes managing all traffic a challenge.

"The volume of bus traffic has grown over the years and it seemed to reach a real tipping point last summer," he said. "We just don't have the space to expand bus parking and we don't have the space to accommodate unregulated bus traffic any more."

A meeting between tour bus operators and Granville Island management is scheduled for April 4.