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Friday, March 11, 2011

The company Londoners love to hate


Private parking for the Brier creates a prickley situation for visitors.

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.




9 comments:

derek_kaill said...

Yes, we had a court date yesterday and we didn't know about the Brier event. We were almost late for our session because we had to park so far away, as we couldn't afford the $20 parking by the court house. Outrageous! Aren't there any monopoly laws to prevent this kind of thing? Especially the fake "tickets" and the fine print, that's really unethical business practices.
PS, just a funny, the word verification for this post was "swines"... quite appropriate, if mis-spelled, isn't it (grin)

Anonymous said...

So the ghost of George Nash and QAP still haunts London downtown after all these years.

George once nailed me (unfairly, I thought) for $107. At the time Controller Jack Burqhardt told me there was nothing the city could do about Nash. Like the out-of-towner you talked to Gina, I blamed the city for allowing such practices.

As a result, to this day, I avoid going downtown as much as possible, preferring, for example, to go to restaurants on the outer edges of the city rather than to the central ones.

While I appreciate that there may be legal limits to what the city can do with private parking predators, if they want more activity down town, the Mayor and Council should review the parking policies and practices of the city parking enforcement department. On a couple of occasions I got $30 fines from overzealous city enforcers. That reinforced my reluctance to go downtown.

As a matter of interest, how much money does the city take in each year from parking fines?

anon one

colin said...

IMPARK--gouging and other expletives do not satisfy the heart stopping impact of a "second fee". This year the parking fee for the Knights games has jumped from $10 to $15 and now $20 ++ for the Brier. And, as Canadians we just sigh and pay! It is not a bad feeling if you have a Champion like Mayor Joe on your side.

Chris D. said...

Parking downtown has always been an issue. If one misses the metre time, one risks a ticket. Is that not one of the reasons that people have avoided downtown, much to its demise, in favour of malls. There are some breaks around Christmas, in the evening and on Sundays. We have to way the cost between money collected in parkig and the loss of revenue for people not going downtown.

Capitalist at heart said...

Why is it that everyone expects free parking in front of where they are going? This is called free enterprise. If the city doesn't like it, then buy all the lots, and give away the parking. This will cost a ton and simply end transit use by anyone with a car driving to work downtown. Just cause you don't read doesn't mean the system is wrong. Take some responsibility people.

Anonymous said...

I suppose that you could look at this as a simplistic case of supply and demand, but one of the jobs of our elected city council is to keep an eye out for the price of our parking lots - including gouging and blatant opportunism.

If you want to stick around in London as a business, if you gouge us, we'll remember and take action. Trust me.

Why's woman said...

A problem with a City owned lot - between Oxford and Piccadilly - is that its fees are higher than those for on-street parking on Piccadilly just adjacent. In fall of 2009 businesses which back onto the lot petitioned the City to keep meter parking at the parking spots, instead of going to the get-out-of-your car and walk big meter. We knew our customers wouldn't tolerate this. Well, the meters stayed; but prices went up, and parking charges were extended to between 6:00 p.m. and midnight which really caught a lot of people! (I don't think you have to pay on Piccadilly). While this parking change is only one factor, there is at least one business along the strip that is struggling and is likely to become another example of "you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.".

Capitalist at Heart said...

Actually, the city only sets the price at its own lots and meters. The private sector can charge what they want. Meters downtown are still $1.25 per hour and free after 6 pm. This hasn't changed in 15 years and neither have the fines. People will pay for parking as long as there is something they want and need. If your business isn't giving people what they want, free parking won't save you.

Gina Barber said...

@anon one
I believe the city takes in about $2M from parking, including fines.