Behest of the West: How much change is needed?

Back in January, Bob MacPherson made a strong case for bringing pay parking back to Tofino; he might have made too strong a case.

They had me up until they didn’t.

Back in January, Bob MacPherson made a strong case for bringing pay parking back to Tofino; he might have made too strong a case.

It’s unclear whether MacPherson knew what he was unleashing when he suggested charging for parking at Tonquin Park Road and Tofino’s two municipal hall lots but, at the time, what he was saying made sense.

Parking at the municipal hall would cost downtown shoppers $1 for two hours; throw in an extra $1 to have time for lunch and you’re looking at a very reasonable price to pay to avoid emptying your fuel tank while driving yourself nuts searching for a vacant spot.

Those of us who have experienced Tofino in July would gladly fork over that amount for the feeling of ecstasy that comes when one eases into the perfect space.

He made a strong case for this endgame. By charging just $1 for parking he prophesized vacant spots would appear. This claim was fueled by his belief that the cars clogging up the municipal hall’s lots aren’t downtown shoppers but long-term parkers using those lots as their personal garage.

Revenue was not the goal. He stressed that several times. The idea was to free up parking for people wanting to park for two hours by getting rid of the people wanting to park for days.

Despite the sense in his plan, MacPherson presented it cautiously. When he was asked if the two lots he was proposing were merely stepping-stones towards more pay-lots he assured they were not. His intent, he promised, was not to spread pay parking through town.

His tone was assuring and it was designed to be. Treading lightly and expecting pushback he enhanced his calm to what I presume is its limit and gently volleyed council’s questions over a preassembled reassurance-twined net.

In hindsight though to council’s ears his response must have come off as not so much reassuring as it was disappointing.

At Feb. 23’s council meeting, Coun. Duncan McMaster, who refers to himself as McNasty on occasion, lived up to that self-imposed nickname by throwing a wicked curveball that would have whiffed Rod Carew.

McMaster, who had missed MacPherson’s January presentation, said the district should absolutely use pay parking as a source of revenue and he wanted to draft more lots into the pay game.

It’s easy to see what McMaster is charging towards. He’s trying to find revenue without looking in local wallets. He wants to tax tourists to fund local needs.

The additional hotel room tax we charge them does wonders for funding improvement projects and festivals so dipping into their pockets again when they park seems sensible.

But does Tofino really need more change?

Tofino’s quaintness and charm lures a bevy of pockets to pick but the charm business is fickle. All markets fluctuate but when your market relies on people finding your small town vibe adorable then bringing in big city features is akin to drinking hemlock.

It’s one thing to squeeze change out of tourists parking in the centre of town but if I need to scramble through my pockets for quarters while juggling two babies and a toddler on the side of the road to get to the Village Green then all of a sudden downtown becomes about as charming and simple as a rubix cube.

That McMaster would bring this idea forward is surprising but not jaw dropping, he’s been consistent in his pursuit of new revenue sources. What is shocking though is the lack of opposition he received. Where MacPherson tiptoed McMaster stomped and he did so freely with no retorts raised, not even when he suggested higher rates than MacPherson had proposed.

Tourists, the ones who drive here at least, have more money than us. They’ll likely fill the lot at $5 a spot whereas I can go in for $1 but push it to $3 and there goes my coffee or tea.

A Tofino where the tourists can park but the rest of us can’t is terrifying.

Council has locked the ‘times have changed’ refrain on repeat but with pay parking once again in the air and with that air once again thick with unclear intentions, how much has changed? And how much change is needed?


Andrew Bailey is the editor of the Westerly News. You can find his weekly column ‘Behest of the West’ on page 4 of our print edition every Wednesday.