Local outcry over Tofino’s proposed downtown parking fees was loud enough to prompt the district to change course.
The fees are now expected to be combined with the beach pay parking program, which gives residents of Tofino and neighbouring First Nations free passes while charging all other Alberni Clayoquot Regional District residents, including those in Ucluelet, Macoah and Hitacu, $60 for an annual pass. Anyone living outside the ACRD can purchase an annual pass for $120.
The district has been suggesting parking fees would be coming downtown since its beach pay parking program was launched in 2021, though the plan to implement those fees in 2022 was delayed a year as council expressed concern over a possible pushback from residents and businesses.
On April 4 of this year, the district again announced a plan to charge for parking downtown and kicked off a public engagement process that included three community meetings as well as feedback from the district’s TalkTofino page and social media channels.
In a presentation to the town’s municipal council on May 23, director of infrastructure and public works Aaron Rodgers reiterated that the downtown parking fees would free up parking spots by creating higher turnover, encourage alternate modes of transportation like walking or biking and bring in money to help pay for local infrastructure and community projects.
While the initial plan that was introduced included separating the beach and downtown pay parking programs and charging residents to park downtown, local opposition was heavy enough to nix that idea and combine the two programs to allow residents to park for free.
“TalkTofino has been busier than it’s ever been before with about 50 times more visitors,” Rodgers said.
“Our social media has had a wide reach and about 3,500 people have engaged with us through that process. Again, I think we’re all familiar with this, but the free resident pass has been the most popular sentiment raised through that process.”
He said there will be active enforcement of timed parking zones, adding that Campbell and First Street spots will remain free, but the time limits will be whittled down from two hours to one hour.
The downtown parking fees were initially proposed to be set on a sliding scale depending on time periods, but will now be set at a flat rate of $2 an hour for regular vehicles and $4 for recreational vehicles.
The fees are expected to be in place by June 16 this year and May 1 in future years. While parking fees are in place at local beaches year-round, the downtown fees will run seasonally and end on Oct. 15 annually.
Rodgers said offshore parking will remain “largely unchanged.”
The revised downtown pay parking program is expected to be officially approved by council during their June 13 meeting and Rodgers added that signage and parking meters are ready to be installed.
The program will be reviewed in late-fall and Rodgers is encouraging opinions to continue to be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We’re going to leave TalkTofino open all summer to try to generate some more feedback about how the program is working for community members as well as visitors and use that feedback for our review in the fall,” he said.
Council endorsed moving the revised pay parking program to final adoption at their June 13 meeting with Coun. Duncan McMaster the only vote opposed.
McMaster did not speak during the May 23 discussion, but had voiced his objection to the proposed changes during a May 15 Committee of the Whole meeting.
“I’m probably going to be out to left field here compared to everybody else. I’ve said in the past that I believe in pay parking but, having said that, I believe in pay parking as a revenue generator, full stop. This business about changing people’s habits, that just punishes the people that can’t afford to pay for parking. The more well-off won’t change their habits; they’re quite happy to pay,” McMaster said.
“I believe in a fair and equitable system which we don’t have presently at the moment because we’ve got the offshore parking, which creates an anomaly and I think this is going to add more confusion…We either all pay, that includes First Nations, residents and tourists, or we don’t pay. I don’t believe in inviting people into my house and saying, ‘Well you can’t use that, but I can.’ If we’re going to invite tourists, if they’re going to pay for parking, I’m happy to pay for parking.”
READ MORE: Parking fees headed to downtown Tofino