Parking fees are heading downtown in Tofino.
The district launched pay parking at local beaches in 2021 and initially expected to introduce downtown parking fees in 2022, but reluctance from the town’s municipal council along with staff turnover and competing priorities delayed that plan to this year.
“In hindsight the delay proved to be a valuable opportunity to review lessons learned from the beach pay parking implementation to improve the rollout of the downtown parking program,” wrote director of infrastructure and public works Aaron Rodgers in a report reviewed by council on March 28.
The downtown program is expected to be in effect by May 20 and will run seasonally from May to October from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
“Staff understand that any parking scheme must include accommodation for residents to shop, bank and pick up mail without having to pay for parking during the summer season,” Rodgers’ report reads. “Previous District parking studies highlight that parking demand in Tofino is highest between 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. resulting in a lack of parking spaces. The downtown pay parking program is proposed to be operational for eight hours a day from 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. ensuring that daily/weekly errands by residents can still be accomplished.”
The program is expected to cost about $210,000 to launch and operate and bring in $440,000 for a net revenue of $230,000 in 2023. Adding that to the anticipated beach pay parking revenue, the district is expecting to net a total of $700,000 from parking fees in 2023.
The beach pay parking program is administered by Robbins through a contract with the district and the district has agreed to a $152,898 contract to pay Robbins to administer the downtown program as well.
“The objectives of the downtown pay parking program are to encourage a constant turnover of vehicles to ensure there are always open parking spaces, encourage a mobility mode shift and introduce an additional revenue stream to support important District initiatives,” Rodgers’ wrote.
The proposed rates are $1.50 per hour for the first two hours, $2 per hour for the third and fourth hour, $2.50 per hour for the fifth and sixth hour and $3 per hour for the seventh and eighth hour, meaning someone who takes up the same parking spot from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. would pay $18.
“The intent is (to) set a fee that is high enough to encourage the uptake of alternative modes of transportation, or shift preferred travel times, but not so high that parkers are penalized for visiting downtown,” Rodgers’ report reads.
The downtown program will consist of roughly 400 paid spaces, but will not include Campbell Street as that falls under Highway 4 and the umbrella of the provincial government’s ministry of transportation and infrastructure which, Rodgers suggested, “indicates a reluctance to permit pay parking on Highway 4.”
Rodgers said the ministry has suggested Tofino taking over the ownership of Campbell Street from the province and that district staff “are keen to explore” that idea following the launch of the 2023 program.
He added that any spaces currently allocated to offshore parking will not be affected.
The downtown system will be different than the beach system, meaning a beach parking pass won’t be valid downtown and vice versa.
Rodgers said paid parking expands municipal revenue sources and incentivizes and emphasizes a quick transition to alternate and sustainable modes of transportation.
“The idea of this is to ensure we have availability of parking spaces, so by pricing spaces we expect to see turnover, meaning there will be open spaces for people to park in,” he said, reiterating another goal is “to get people out of their single occupancy vehicles and into other forms of transportation particularly our seasonal shuttle and cycling.”
He said downtown residents may be eligible for one free annual parking pass and an additional pass for a “yet to be determined fee.”
“That’s to help people adjust to parking being paid in front of their residence where they may have parked for free for many decades,” he said.
He added that kiosks and signage will be installed along with community engagement processes prior to the program beginning on May 20.
“I would call that a soft date, one that we’re targeting, but parking is parking and sometimes things come out of the woodwork,” he said.
Coun. Ali Sawyer asked about the fee structure around easing the burden on people who don’t live close to downtown and asked about someone who only needs to park for a few minutes without needing to pay for a full hour.
Rodgers responded that the principle is to maintain parking turnover, noting that parking will continue to be free before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m. and suggested operating the system this year and then “see how it feels and adjust how we need.”
“This is something brand new for us. We know it works at the beach, downtown parking is a little bit of a different animal,” he said.
Sawyer also questioned only offering downtown residents one free pass, suggesting many households have more than one car.
Rodgers countered that residents should be parking on their own property, rather than public roadways.
“The way that our bylaws are written, everybody should be providing all the parking for themselves on their lot. That’s what our bylaws say,” he said, acknowledging that vehicles “tend to spill out on the public right of way we all pay for,” and it’s difficult to parse how many passes each residence should receive.
“How do you unwind that? I don’t know. What you can do is encourage people to pay for what space they’re actually using at the time that they’re using it. I don’t know where I would begin in trying to figure out what that right number is…I don’t have an easy answer to your question. I do appreciate it and I’m looking forward to seeing what the community has to say about that and what downtown residents have to say.”
Mayor Dan Law noted that public engagement about the downtown pay parking program is expected to pick up this week, but the contract with Robbins would already be approved.
“When we go into the official public input phase, how much sway will the public have in changing any of this?,” he asked.
Rodgers said he had spoken with communications staff about rolling out a comprehensive project expected to start on April 3 and that pricing, residential passes and hours of operation could still be tweaked based on the public’s feedback.
“There’s room to make some moves there, but to your point it is limited,” he said. “If I had to assign a percentage of how much is going to be available to people to modify, I would say 75-80 per cent will be set and 20-25 per cent we’d be able to move.”
Law added that residents should understand that “parking has never been free.”
“It’s paid for by taxpayers and grants. That’s something I always remind myself. Nothing we see is free, it’s always been paid for by somebody. This is a way of putting the cost of that infrastructure onto the people who use it,” he said.
Coun. Tom Stere supported moving forward with the program, but expressed concern around adding fees to Tofino’s daily life.
“The affordability for residents in our community, affordability in general, is a challenge,” he said. “When we start adding costs to living in our community, I find that challenging…I still have difficulty with residents paying for parking in a community where we already are challenged with affordability. I’ll leave it at that, but it is very problematic for me; it’s just non-stop adding of costs…I cannot get away from that affordability factor.”
Rodgers retorted that the program would likely impact visitors more than residents.
“Frankly, people paying downtown will largely be tourists. There will be some residents, but most likely residents have the opportunity to avoid the downtown because they’re not here on holiday and they can make other choices,” he said. “Rather than us looking at us as a municipality that’s trying to take more, we’re just trying to adjust who’s paying for what. If you have a car and you park downtown, you pay for that privilege. If you’re someone who walks or cycles, you’re rewarded for that because your taxes don’t go up.”
READ MORE: Pay parking arrives at Tofino’s beaches