Opinion: Where are Ottawa’s best parking deals?

How much is too much to pay to park in our increasingly congested city?

For me, the limit is about $3 an hour, and that would be for short-term parking. I would not want to pay that much for more than an hour or two.

Recently, I planned my first visit to the EY Centre, Ottawa’s spectacular and relatively new trade show and convention facility near the airport. When I arrived, I found the centre charged a flat daily fee of $8 for parking. I decided that was too much for my intended visit of an hour or two to a Christmas craft show, and I left.

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“Nobody likes to pay for parking,” acknowledges Kevin McCrann, president of the Shenkman Corp., which operates the EY Centre. But he made a persuasive case for the $8 daily parking charge when I phoned him inquiring the reason for it.

As many as 10,000 people might attend an event at the centre, and many of them might leave the venue at about the same time. It would be chaotic if they had to pay varying parking charges on departure; it’s much simpler and more consumer-friendly to charge a flat fee, Mr. McCrann says, adding there have been “zero complaints.”

The EY Centre is not out to make money from parking, insists Mr. McCrann. He points out the centre worked with the city to get bus service to the centre’s location on Uplands Drive and that future LRT rail service to the airport will also serve the EY Centre. And he says the daily fee of $8 is far below the maximum charge at most public parking locations in central Ottawa, which is true.

Perhaps his most compelling argument is this: “If we made parking free, our 1,800-car parking lot would be filled with air travellers.” The centre is within walking distance of the Ottawa airport.

Fair enough. But what about parking rates generally in the city? Most public parking rates in Ottawa are reasonable, I believe. For that, we partly should thank the City of Ottawa, which charges moderate rates for on-street parking. The city also sets a good example by charging a flat daily rate of just $2 on weekends in the large underground parking garage at city hall on Elgin Street.

The best parking deal

Still, the best parking deal of all is at the World Exchange Plaza, at the corner of Metcalfe and Albert streets in the heart of downtown. It offers free parking all day long on weekends.

Several retailers at the new Lansdowne Park shopping complex also offer free parking for their customers. You just have to get them to stamp your parking ticket.

Good, old-fashioned competition among retailers is chiefly what keeps down Ottawa parking rates. Bayshore Shopping Centre in the west end recently expanded its already large free parking lots, partly to give itself an edge over the Rideau Centre downtown.

Still, the Rideau Centre, Ottawa’s premier shopping destination, has among the lowest rates of all downtown public parking lots. It charges $1.50 per half hour for the first three hours, giving a shopper three hours for $9. That’s little more than return bus fare from anywhere in Ottawa to the Rideau Centre.

“Our rate structure is designed to accommodate short-term parkers and reflects typical length of a shopping visit,” explains Rideau Centre general manager Cindy VanBuskirk.

The National Arts Centre, which has a daily maximum parking rate of $18, drops this rate to $11 after 4 p.m. to accommodate those attending shows in the evening.

However, parking is not cheap for fans of the National Hockey League’s Ottawa Senators or those attending concerts at the Canadian Tire Centre. Parking for Senators games or concerts ranges from $15 to $25, depending how far you park from the arena.

Compared with those rates, that $8 charge for most events at the EY Centre seems reasonable.

Michael Prentice is OBJ’s columnist on retail and consumer issues. He can be contacted at news@obj.ca.

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