A city councillor is calling on the city to donate to charity more than $4,000 in downtown parking revenue it collected on free days this holiday season.
KTW looked into how much money was paid to the parking kiosks on five Saturdays in November and December, despite the fact city council decided to offer free parking downtown on Saturdays during the two months to encourage shopping.
The decision to waive parking fees on Saturdays was estimated to cost the city about $12,000 in lost parking revenue.
Numbers provided to KTW by the city’s bylaws department reveal downtown visitors paid $4,071.43 by kiosk and mobile payment during the first five Saturdays through Dec. 1.
“Because we were prepared to forego revenues for those Saturdays, maybe the city should make a gesture and donate [the money] to the [KTW] Christmas Cheer Fund,” Coun. Denis Walsh said. “I’m really disappointed because we’re trying to promote the downtown core and it just requires proper signage to get the message out,” he said.
City bylaws manager John Ramsay said signs placed on downtown parking kiosks by the Kamloops Central Business Improvement Association were initially positioned on the sides of the machines.
The first two Saturdays of November saw most of the parking fees collected, totalling $2,598.90. The signs were then moved by bylaw officers to the front of the machines, leading to far less revenue on the next three Saturdays (Nov. 17, Nov. 24 and Dec. 1). Still, an additional $1,472.53 was collected on the three subsequent Saturdays, including nearly $500 on Nov. 24, the day of the Santa Claus Parade.
“We put the label I sent to you there on the machines; however, people will take them off the machine and throw them in the garbage cans,” Ramsay said. “I can’t stop that part of it. We’re trying to find a programming solution to this.”
Ramsay said staff are working to have the pay rates in the kiosks reflect that of Sundays or holidays, which are free. That change would also automatically change the rates on the city’s new mobile payment system, Whoosh. Asked why that was not done earlier, Ramsay said the KCBIA did not make the program extension request to council early enough.
“The KCBIA didn’t go to council until the end of October,” he said.
KCBIA executive director Carl DeSantis called promotion of the program a “shared responsibility, “ noting various communications have been sent out to inform residents, in addition to the CAP Team reminding people on the streets.
The KCBIA is not tracking how many people have parked for free, DeSantis said, but he did say the initiative has so far been “absolutely fantastic.
“We’re seeing increased weekend activity and parked vehicles,” he said, noting the benefit to downtown businesses.
News that the city collected thousands in parking revenue on free days did not surprise Walsh, who brought up the issue of signage at a recent council meeting after noticing drivers were unaware of free parking.
Walsh lives and works downtown and said he has intervened when spotting people pay on Saturdays. He said signage is inadequate, regardless of whether they are placed on the sides or the fronts of the machines.
“I would have just bagged the whole bloody meter,” he told KTW.
Walsh wondered how many people paid for parking when not required to do so. Assuming each customer paid $3 suggests more than 1,300 paid transactions were conducted on the five free Saturdays.
Asked if people should receive a refund, Walsh said that would be difficult and instead made the suggestion of donating the money to the KTW Christmas Cheer Fund, an annual holiday campaign organized by Kamloops This Week that raises money for five local charities.
Walsh said the issue of free Saturday parking collection is just the latest complaint linked to downtown parking kiosks, which he said have had problems from the first day of operation.
“Down the road, I would like to see us get a more user-friendly system that gives us more flexibility,” Walsh said.
Ramsay hopes to have parking programming updated by this Saturday, on which day the KCBIA is hosting its downtown block party. It is unclear how much parking revenue has been collected on free days in the past. KTW is awaiting numbers from the city.
Free Saturday parking continues until Dec. 29.