British Columbia

Vancouver may change 260 free parking spaces on one street into paid meters

The City of Vancouver is looking to get rid of one of the last extensive stretches of free parking near commercial areas.

Spots next to Fraser Street have been free because businesses have paid annual maintenance fee

A parking lot that offers free short-term parking to patrons of businesses on Fraser street. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

For nearly 60 years, businesses along one of Vancouver's busiest streets have paid for hundreds of units of free customer parking over a six-block stretch.

But that arrangement may soon be coming to an end. 

City of Vancouver staff are proposing to dissolve the South Fraser Street Collective Parking Project, an area of over 260 spaces west of Fraser Street between East 43rd Avenue and 49th Avenue.

The land is owned by the city, and local businesses pay annual fees of more than $300,000 to cover the original construction and ongoing city costs.

In its place would be paid parking, overseen by the city's parking lot operator EasyPark, on a timeline to be determined later. On-street metered parking in the surrounding area would also be installed. 

Council is scheduled to vote on the report next Tuesday, with specific bylaw changes to be formally approved in the weeks after.

The parking spaces on the stretch of Fraser Street are owned by the city, and were constructed in 1959. 

Cars are parked along Fraser Street in Vancouver, British Columbia on Thursday July 4, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Why the change?

Rob Nijjar, executive director of the South Hill Business Improvement Association, says the changes are needed because the parking spots aren't serving the intended purpose of helping customers. Rather, Nijjar said drivers who live or work in the area are abusing the free spots, sometimes parking for hours on end. 

"What's happening often is that we have people parking there all day that either live in the area, and also people that work in the area, that are taking parking from the customers," he said.

"When a vast majority of that parking isn't available to the customers, you just don't see the turnover."

In its report, the City of Vancouver said the occupancy for the free spaces, during one recent field study, was 96 per cent at 1 p.m. It suggested that metered parking would promote vehicle turnover and create more available spaces for drivers "destined for an area." 

The city also wrote that metered parking is a key tool in achieving one of its goals after declaring a climate emergency — namely, having two-thirds of all trips in Vancouver be done by walking, cycling or transit by 2030. 

Rob Nijjar, executive director of the South HIll Business Improvement Association. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

People will pay

The changes will save businesses between $2,400 and $15,700 a year and have the support of the South Hill BIA.

But Nikhil Handa, who works at Rokko Sarees & Fabrics, says the new rules will make his life difficult.

"I don't have a parking spot, so I'm the first one that's going to get screwed when they put meters on," Handa said.

He says it's not a good idea for customers either.

"We get so many customers from different parts of the city … because we have free parking, they can spend their time [easily] here without worrying 'is the coin in the meter? Is the coin in the meter?'"

Nikhil Handa, worker at Rokko Sarees & Fabrics on Fraser Street in Vancouver, says the new parking rules will make his life difficult. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Nijjar understands some individuals might have a different take. 

"Nobody goes around saying 'oh please, put meters in our district,'" he said. "However it's quality of life is what we're looking for."

The city says a petition has been filed with the city, containing approximately 3,000 signatures from individuals and 90 businesses asking the city to keep the status quo.

The proposal continues a long-term trend of the city eliminating free parking, and staff estimate converting the area to pay parking would provide approximately $100,000 in new revenue. 

Fraser Street in Vancouver, British Columbia on Thursday July 4, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

With files from Tina Lovgreen