British Columbia

Free Sunday parking in downtown Victoria could end in May

By charging for parking, the city plans to start giving people under 18 years of age free bus passes. The mayor thinks it could be a big step forward in cutting carbon pollution.

City estimates charging for Sunday parking could raise $600K annually and pay for youth bus passes

The city estimates there are about 2,000 metered parking spots in Victoria. (Liam Britten/CBC)

The meter seems to be running out on a long-standing tradition in downtown Victoria.

As council gets set to vote on its 2019 financial plan, support is strong to end free Sunday parking at the city's estimated 2,000 parking meters downtown.

The move could earn the city approximately $600,000 each year in parking revenue, and Mayor Lisa Helps wants to spend that cash on free bus passes for Victoria residents under 18.

"All citizens of the globe and cities in particular have been charged with significantly reducing carbon pollution by 2030," Helps told On The Island host Gregor Craigie.

"If we provide free transit passes to the next generation they will become transit riders and have a lighter carbon footprint than adults."

Helps said at a committee-of-the-whole meeting last week that paying for all the bus passes could cost up to $1 million. She said the extra money could come from higher-than-expected revenue or possibly through a negotiated deal with B.C. Transit.

Business group mostly supportive

The idea was unanimously supported at last week's committee meeting.

The financial plan calls for free parking to end May 1. The goal is to introduce the free youth transit passes starting in September.

An academic says many major Canadian cities still allow free Sunday parking, a remnant of a time when many stores weren't open to Sunday shopping. (Liam Britten/CBC)

Jeff Bray, executive director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association, said his organization supports the move but is relieved that the city is still keeping its parkades free.

"We still want to maintain that free parking option," Bray said, adding his group will "strongly urge" council to keep them that way.

'Free parking' in Nanaimo leads to problems

In a slightly different approach — one not made fully by choice — a commercial area in Nanaimo adjacent to that city's downtown has temporarily adopted free parking.

Nanaimo experienced a rash of vandalism to its parking meters last fall, and since then has allowed free parking as it replaces the old meters with more advanced parking kiosks.

In the fall of 2018, numerous parking meters near downtown Nanaimo were severely vandalized. (Chek News)

The Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce said the loss of meters has not helped businesses.

"It really turns into an impediment," said chamber president Kim Smythe. "More often than not the staff of the merchants and businesses downtown will snap up those free parking spaces first thing in the morning and leave their vehicle there all day."

Marc Fillion, owner of Mambo Pizza, says his customers have told him they can't stop off at his restaurant because of all the people parking for free.

"It's really affected the amount of customers we have downtown," Fillion said.

Many large cities still offer Sunday parking

University of Victoria associate professor of geography Reuben Rose-Redwood said that in Canada many major cities offer free parking on Sundays: Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg and Ottawa, for instance, although Vancouver does not.

He said free Sunday parking was born in an era when most businesses were closed to customers. As more businesses opened for Sunday shopping, the parking became more heavily used.

"It's counterintuitive, but charging for parking actually makes it more convenient to actually find a parking spot on the weekends," Rose-Redwood said.

Council is expected to vote on the parking changes — and the rest of its financial plan — at a final vote Thursday.

With files from Dave Biro, Chek News and CBC Radio One's On The Island