By Doug Hallett
A consultant hired by the city to study parking issues in the downtown area appears to be leaning towards recommending a parking system abandoned by the city a few years ago – having parking pay for itself.
One of the guiding principles proposed by the consultant is that the municipal parking system “will be financially sustainable as a stand-alone unit,” with parking revenues paying for future capital costs of building more parking, a public information session Tuesday at city hall was told.
The study is being lengthened, with city council now not scheduled to make decisions until late July, rather than in the spring, said transportation and engineering planner Brian Hollingworth of Toronto-based IBI Group.Until a few years ago, municipal parking was a stand-alone unit in Guelph, with a budget that operated on a user-pay basis with surplus parking revenues going into a capital reserve fund. Then council shifted parking into the city’s regular tax-supported budget after it introduced free two-hour on-street parking downtown. The free parking led to a loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual parking revenue from the meters.
Council subsequently adopted a new 10-year capital forecast for the city which excluded several big projects that didn’t have a clear funding source. The biggest excluded projects were a new central library, a south end recreation centre and a planned parkade on the Wilson Street Parking Lot.
As things stand now, “we don’t have the money to grow the (parking) system,” Ian Panabaker, the city’s corporate manager of downtown renewal, said during a question-and-answer session at Tuesday’s meeting.
The wide-ranging $100,000 study, led by a steering committee aided by Hollingworth, is looking at the possibility of recommending that city hall discuss with downtown developers the potential for building shared parking facilities. That’s seen as one way of boosting parking capacity as the city intensifies use of the downtown in keeping with the city’s growth plan to 2031, with thousands more residents and employees expected to be living downtown, as well as more retail and tourism activity by then.
Among other things, the study is reviewing current downtown parking permit rates, as well as hourly and daily parking rates, to determine the rates needed to cover parking system expenditures and growth to 2031.
Lloyd Longfield, president of the Guelph Chamber of Commerce, suggested the study look at the possibility of privatizing downtown parking.
Guelph currently operates two parkades, the East and West Parkades on Macdonell Street, which were built 28 years ago and are fully paid for. With no debt charges to cover, these parkades generate surplus revenues, but “we don’t make oodles of dollars on it,” said Allister McIlveen, the city’s manager of traffic and parking.
Hollingworth said a survey of on-street parking done on Feb. 13 and 14 on Macdonell, Wilson and Carden streets showed few available spaces. Usage was over 90 per cent between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Off-street parking is also well used, he told the meeting. “The bottom line is there is not a lot of flexibility in parking downtown,” he said.
“There are some big decisions and big things to discuss,” the consultant told a small crowd at the meeting.