Parking in the gravel lot behind Tofino’s municipal office might soon be a pay-to-play privilege.
Tofino’s municipal council is thinking about putting in user-pay parking, effective May-October, at the municipal lot off Main Street as well as the small lot at the end of Tonquin Park Road.
The idea was presented to council by district CAO Bob Macpherson during a recent Committee of the Whole meeting.
MacPherson suggested free parking is a myth, as the district must pay to create and maintain parking spaces.
He said parking is a significant consumer of land and Tofino should look to manage what it has more effectively rather than create more spaces to address the community’s annual 100-day summertime parking war.
“There are a few hours in each of those 100 days where we seem to have a demand that exceeds supply,” he said.
“Although there are always empty parking spaces, there seems to be a demand for easy to access public spaces so we end up with drivers circling, pollution created from idling and cars that stay in the same space for a very, very, long period of time in downtown Tofino.”
He said the municipal lot is often full by 10 a.m. and gets clogged with long-term parkers, including tourists going on wildlife watching trips and locals who work offshore.
“Calling it parking may be generous, it ends up functioning as vehicle storage as much as parking,” he said.
MacPherson asked council to consider charging for parking at the municipal lot, “so it’s not full of people who could make other choices,” and said this would free up spaces for downtown customers.
He suggested rates of: $1 for two hours, $3 to park until 10 p.m. and a flat $8 charge for Recreational Vehicles.
“We’re not looking to really price anybody out of the market other than people who would want to use it every single day,” he said.
He added the rates would be reviewed after the first year.
“You ideally want there to be 10 per cent vacancy so that someone coming into an area can find somewhere to park,” he said. “If there’s too much vacancy you lower the rates and if there’s no vacancy you raise the rates.”
He said Robbins Parking could be contracted to set up and maintain user-pay parking machines and that one machine would do the trick at each of the two sites, though Tonquin Park Road’s machine would need to be durable and credit-card only.
“We’re looking at a simpler but more durable machine there because of potential for vandalism at that location,” he said.
“Tonquin is actually not expected to be revenue positive. In talking with Robbins, we think that this would actually move backwards by about $3,000 a year but, again, using this as a mechanism to control demand.”
He said the gross revenue collected from user-pay parking fees at both lots would be roughly $25,000 in the first year with expenses totaling about $17,206.
“The net revenue is not going to put us on easy street by any means at just over $7,000,” he said.
“The revenue side of this would be modest, but it would provide an opportunity for us to reinvest in parking or, if council chose, it could go into a downtown improvement fund.”
Coun. Greg Blanchette asked whom the district was targeting with the user-pay system.
Macpherson responded it’s not aimed at anybody in particular.
“It’s actually aimed at trying to make inventory available to people who are coming into town, whether it’s a visitor or a resident,” he said.
Mayor Josie Osborne wondered if user-pay parking at the Tonquin Park lot would lead to people parking along the narrow road to avoid charges.
MacPherson suggested something has to be done to convince Tonquin Park users to park at the nearby community hall, where parking would remain free.
“There are two options and the status quo isn’t one of them,” he said adding the district could either charge for parking at Tonquin Park Road or nix parking there entirely.
Coun. Ray Thorogood supported user-pay parking at the municipal lot but wondered if it was needed at Tonquin.
“I disagree with the status quo on Tonquin. I might be wrong but I don’t see a big problem with Tonquin,” he said.
MacPherson responded that drivers must travel to the end of Tonquin Park Road before they know if there are any available parking spots and this creates congestion.
“What we’re hoping to do is have people kind of educate themselves that it’s better to go park at the community hall,” he said.
Blanchette noted this would not be the first appearance of pay parking in Tofino and asked if the district had a public education plan in place to avoid the outcry and hullaballoo that caused Tofino to kill pay parking roughly 10 years ago.
“When we tried it years and years ago I was watching from Ucluelet, I lived there then, and I must say it was very entertaining and I did make the prediction: ‘I wonder how long it’s going to be before somebody rips out one of these parking meters,’ and sure enough on the front page of the Westerly was a parking meter torn out of the ground by irate locals who have an expectation, realistically or not, to be able to park for free in their own [darn] town,” Blanchette said.
MacPherson said public outreach would be best practice.
Osborne doubted the public would push back against user-pay parking in the municipal lot.
“Last time the district attempted this it was at some pretty prime places,” she said.
MacPherson agreed and suggested the district did not effectively inform the public of what was going on the last time pay parking was brought in.
“I wasn’t here ten years ago of course, but going back and looking at some of the media, as well as some staff reports, it seemed like user-pay parking was put in place at a lot of locations at once, without a lot of warning and no signs to kind of guide people through what was happening,” he said.
Coun. Cathy Thicke said she could support bringing a user-pay system to the municipal lot but urged council to consider discussing a long-term plan for the site.
“It feels, to me, almost like a travesty of our space,” she said. “This is one of the most beautiful spots in all of our downtown core and we’re giving it over to parking and it makes my heart feel sick.”
She also expressed disdain for people parking there long-term while they head offshore.
“With all due respect, I just do not understand why we as the district should provide parking for people who work on fish farms,” she said.
She asked if a local parking pass could be made available but MacPherson said this would defeat the purpose of the plan.
“If we accept that we have 100 days, and four or five hours in each of those days, where we have more demand than we have supply…my view is the people that can most easily change their behaviour are those of us that live here,” MacPherson said.
“It’s nice to think that we could accommodate and that people would behave in the best interest of the community, but that’s not what’s happening right now.”
Thicke doubted user-pay parking would help Tonquin’s congestion and liked the idea of preventing parking there altogether.
“It should be foot traffic only,” she said.
Blanchette asked if the two user-pay lots would be the start of more to come.
MacPherson doubted user-pay parking would stretch through town.
“I appreciate that one of the neat small-towney things about Tofino is that we don’t have meters on the street at this point, so I don’t have any plan or desire to have a success here and use that as a springboard for expanding user-pay parking,” he said.
Baert made a motion to bring MacPherson’s recommendations to a regular council meeting and said she hoped to hear public feedback throughout the process.
The district also plans to have signs in place outlining time limits on street parking within the next month.