Park this: Business owners push back on parking fee hike scheme

Ian Boyd
Compact Music owner Ian Boyd has operated his store in the Glebe for more than 30 years. File photo

With downtown parking fees suddenly a hot-button issue in Ottawa’s mayoral race, Mandy Gosewich didn’t mince words when asked whether it’s time to consider asking motorists to pay more to park in the core.

“There’s so many other things to worry about,” the owner of STUNNING! Fashion + Accessories in the ByWard Market said Friday, calling mayoral candidate Brandon Bay’s proposal to as much as triple prices at city-owned lots and on-street parking spaces downtown “absolutely ridiculous.”

Bay sparked plenty of chatter on social media after telling the audience at a mayoral debate this week he would hike downtown parking rates from an average of $3.12 an hour to about $9 an hour in a bid to discourage driving and encourage more use of public transit, with the extra revenue going toward fixing roads and reducing the cost of taking the bus or light rail.

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Bay clarified his stance Thursday afternoon, telling CFRA his plan wouldn’t jack up prices in one fell swoop. Rather, he said he would wait until Stage 2 of the LRT system is running before implementing any fee hikes.

Other candidates, including Catherine McKenney and Mark Sutcliffe, have since publicly declared they don’t intend to increase downtown parking fees if they’re elected to the city’s top job on Oct. 24. 

Nonetheless, the proposal has generated plenty of discussion in the business community.

Mandy Gosewich

Gosewich has owned her apparel and fashion accessories shop near the corner of York Street and Sussex Drive for nine years. She says the business has finally started to recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic and raising parking fees – even incrementally – would deter customers from coming downtown to patronize her store.

A regular transit user herself, Gosewich says the city would be better off investing in a good marketing push to encourage more people to ride the bus or LRT rather than raising parking rates as an incentive.

“It’s not rocket science to make up a marketing campaign,” she said. “You can’t force people to take (transit).”

Michelle Groulx, the executive director of the Ottawa Coalition of Business Improvement Areas, said raising parking rates could backfire by discouraging motorists from coming downtown, leading to less money flowing into city coffers in the long run.

“If you up (parking) prices, people won’t come downtown. The people that are going to suffer from increased parking (fees) will be small businesses.”

“When you raise (rates) too high, then you’re not going to get the revenue any more,” she said.

Other mainstreet retailers like Ian Boyd agree.

Boyd, the owner of Compact Music in the Glebe, said he draws much of his clientele from Barrhaven, Orléans and other neighbourhoods outside the core. With costs going up everywhere, he fears some of those customers might be less inclined to hop in their cars to get their latest vinyl fix if they have to shell out more to park too.

“If you up the prices, people won’t come downtown,” said Boyd, who has operated his current Bank Street location for more than 30 years. “The people that are going to suffer from increased parking (fees) will be small businesses. It’s as simple as that.”

Groulx, whose organization represents more than 6,400 mainstreet retailers and other businesses across the city, said she’d like to see the city consider other options for raising additional revenue to fund road maintenance and cheaper public transportation.

One idea, she suggested, would be to create gated, paid parking facilities for bicycles at downtown city lots.  

Parking revenue down

“People will pay for those things,” she said. “We’re trying to be more green, so why not look to (get) revenue from non-automobile parking? There are innovative ways to look at that.”

Parking rates at city-owned facilities in downtown Ottawa range from $2 per 30 minutes between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday to Friday at Ottawa City Hall to $1.50 per 30 minutes at the parkade at 70 Clarence St. in the ByWard Market. The city brought in $11.25 million in parking revenue last year, down from $17.1 million in 2019.

Ottawa’s parking prices are still below those of some other Canadian cities like Toronto, where metered rates are as high as $4 per half hour in parts of downtown. 

The debate over downtown parking fees comes as the issue of revitalizing Ottawa’s COVID-battered core is taking centre stage among many business leaders.

Claridge Homes executive Neil Malhotra, who is co-chairing a task force aimed at devising a long-term plan to revitalize Ottawa’s downtown, told OBJ last week the next city council needs to “get serious” about encouraging more people to live and work inside the Greenbelt.

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