Students discover free parking lots in northwest Calgary, displacing monthly users

Word has been spreading on campus at SAIT and the Alberta University of the Arts that there's free parking at the Jubilee Auditorium's two lots. That's led to a parking frenzy — and some frustration among its regular customers.

Jubilee Auditorium is in between parking contractors leaving 800+ spots unattended

Students circle the parkade near the Alberta University of the Arts and SAIT in search of a spot after learning parking is free until Dec. 1. (Colleen Underwood)

Free parking is a rare find in Calgary, let alone close to two post-secondary institutions where budget-conscious students are eager to take advantage of anything free.

But that's the situation students at SAIT and the Alberta University of the Arts find themselves in after the Jubilee Auditorium's parking contractor, Advanced Parking Systems, cancelled its contract at the end of August, leaving the facility's lot and parkade unattended and free since Sept. 1.

"It's been very economical, it's been very time saving, for sure, it definitely does help a little bit. It is nice but honestly it can't persist," said Joseph Min, SAIT student.

According to the provincial government, Min is right. The Jubilee's complimentary parking, more than 800 spots, is only temporary. 

The Jubilee Auditorium is between parking contractors, leaving its lot and parkade unmanned and free for now. (Colleen Underwood)

The Ministry of Culture, Multiculturalism and the Status of Women oversees operations at Jubilee Auditoriums in Calgary and Edmonton and issued the following statement by email:

"Parking at the Calgary Jubilee Auditorium is currently complimentary. Paid parking at the Jubilee is scheduled to resume in December 2019 when ParkPlus, the auditorium's new parking management provider, starts its service contract." 

But it said it shuts down the lots to the public on days when the opera is in town — that's true whether there's free or paid parking.

The University and SAIT students CBC News talked to at the lots were pleased to be able to park for free, except now that word has spread, others say it's become nearly impossible to find a spot at certain times of the day.

"It's just nuts. It's a waste of a whole half day just because of the stupidity of this," said Bill Hornecker, seasonal woodshop technician and instructor at the Alberta University of the Arts.

Hornecker said he paid $275 per month for a spot in the parkade in August, when as a seasonal employee he went back to work. He said he has been parking at the same lot for several years during the school year.

He said he received an email from the company Advanced Parking Systems saying it would no longer be managing the parkade, effective Sept. 1, and Hornecker said the company didn't offer any other information.

Parking spots have been filling up fast at this parkade next to the Alberta University of the Arts and the main lot at the Jubilee since students discovered the spots are free. (Colleen Underwood)

Hornecker said at first it was great to have free parking — but then word spread — and now he and others who were buying monthly passes are fighting for spots.

He said the parkade got increasingly full over the month of September but when Oct. 1 hit, the parkade was slammed.

"It was like somebody turned on a switch and it was automatically full."

Since then, Hornecker said he has been able to find a spot when he starts at 8 a.m. but not when he starts at 11 a.m.

So on those later shifts, Hornecker said he drives to work early, parks, and then takes the bus home and comes back later.

"I would far sooner pay the money on a monthly basis to be able to guarantee that I'm not wasting a whole bunch of my time," said Hornecker.

He said he would take transit to school altogether, to avoid the hassle, but said he often hauls large tools to class so he needs his truck.

Woodshop technician Bill Hornecker says he often has to come to work hours ahead of time to find a parking spot now that there's free parking in the Jubilee's two lots. (Colleen Underwood)

Hornecker also wonders how much money the Jubilee is losing not collecting parking fees.

According to its signs, it costs $7 to park for events at the Jubilee and $11 daily. 

In response the provincial government said:

"It is difficult to estimate how much revenue has been forgone during the brief three-month transition between parking management providers. Parking revenue depends on a variety of factors, such as the number of shows at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium and weather. Parking revenue is included as part of the Jubilee's overall annual revenues and is not broken out as a separate line item."

It also said the freebies would be over soon.

Its contract with Park Plus begins in December and the province said parking fees, which are set by the Jubilee, will remain the same.


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