One thing our new mayor does very well is come straight to the point. Wednesday’s Finance and Administration Committee meeting was no exception.
An added item on the agenda requesting assistance with the costs of dealing with the excess humidity at the Brier at the John Labatt’s Centre provided the mayor with the opportunity to praise the event and the organizers. But then he launched into a brief tirade that, had we had a few spectators in the gallery, would have earned him a standing ovation.
The target, while not specifically named, was Impark, the ubiquitous parking management company that controls much of parking on private property in London and many other communities.
Impark’s practices have long been a source of irritation to residents and visitors alike.
One irritant is its pricing practices which are predatory, to say the least. Mayor Fontana referred to them as gouging and parasitic. Good for him. Preying on visitors to the city drawn by the Brier, Impark raised its price for all day parking to $20 which is pretty steep for London. But then, when people returned to their cars later in the day, they were hit with a parking violation notice requiring them, if past practice is anything to go by, to send $40 to its BC head office and if it’s not done quickly enough, there’ll be an invoice for $70.
I speak from experience, both in London and Toronto.
Of course, the parking public could have avoided this by reading the fine print which indicates that all day parking does not include all night parking. That will be an extra $10, please.
Most Londoners have figured out these tricks until, of course, the rules change, which they are apt to do if there are unsuspecting sports fans in town looking for a place to leave their cars while they take in the game.
But it’s not a good way to welcome visitors. Although Impark is not a public agency, the “tickets” it posts on your windshield look official, as if they had been issued by the city.
While I was on council, I had quite a number of complaints about these tickets from visitors. Here is one example:
I recently attended a Scottish drum clinic at the university in your town. We went for dinner downtown and I paid for a parking receipt for my dash of my car. As it would happen, we extended our dinner about a half-hour longer. When I got back to my car, I had a ticket for a(n) expired receipt and a bill for $39.59. This is just a parking ticket!!! What in the world are you thinking. Almost 40 bucks for a parking ticket. I live in Kitchener and its only $15. You can rest assured, I will never visit your city again. Shame on you. $39.59 for a parking ticket on a Saturday is nothing but gouging. Really leaves a bad taste in my mouth for London.
I contacted the complainant and explained that it was not the city which had issued the ticket. That explanation fell on deaf ears. No matter who issues it, the experience provides an impression of the city that is hard to erase.
And it’s not just visitors who complain about the tactics used. For example, in at least one parking lot, patrons would feed change into the machine to get the amount of time required. If they ran out of change and needed more to get enough time to cover their appointments, they would have to start again at square one, losing the benefit of the money they had already invested. And returning even a few minutes late nets you the full "fine".
As well, the minimum amount of time that can be purchased is expensive. An errand of half an hour can cost $6 or more, depending on the location.
But, given that Impark controls over half of all parking in London, it has free rein.
Comparatively speaking, London’s parking rates are not high. Most cities of our size have significantly higher monthly rates than London’s $120, except Kitchener-Waterloo where the average rate last year was $91.60. By contrast, Calgarians pay over $420 per month. A comment in the London Free Press from a downtown city worker contained the information that the individual was paying $100 per month. That is only $25 per week or $5 per day.
Even on-street parking which is run by the city has not increased its rates for 15 years. And despite the fact that the Downtown Business Association and Downtown London consistently argue that there is a shortage of downtown long-term parking, a recent survey found a 30% vacancy rate during prime business hours.
The problem is not a shortage of parking, but rather a shortage in the location that drivers prefer, that is, on the doorstep of wherever they are going. And, of course, there will always be a shortage when we host a major sports events or a popular concert.
As residents of a growing city, we need to identify and use alternatives to dedicating large amounts of prime real estate to the storage of non-productive vehicles. We can walk a little further, ride our bikes, take the bus. Doing so will make our city more interesting and safer, our air cleaner, our bodies healthier.
It will also free up valuable spaces for visitors and for people who bring business to the city.
My first full meeting of the Board of Control and City Council meetings included a recommendation to have the taxpayers provide the private sector with a $10,000 subsidy per parking space in a parking building in addition to providing tax exemptions and development charges exemptions. But what is the point of building parking facilities if those who use them are not willing to pay the full cost of providing them. And how efficient a public transit system could we provide with those millions of dollars of investment?
As for special events, we need to find alternatives to having everyone bring cars into the city. We simply can’t provide sufficient parking or road space for such occasional influxes. For that, we need to plan shuttle services from peripheral parking lots and ensure that they are widely advertised
Some of that was done for the Brier. But there was no advance meeting or consultation with parking lot operators, including Impark, to ensure that the experience of visitors was such that they would want to return.
The mayor suggested that we need to have some kind of policy to deal with both the parasitic pricing and the aggressive enforcement encountered on privately owned parking lots, but, as Councillor Paul Hubert pointed out, to do so is dicey in terms of jurisdiction.
It remains to be seen if anything can, in fact, be done other than moral suasion.
But it is refreshing to have the concern addressed so directly.