John Cooper

John Cooper

Free parking ends on Nanaimo’s Commercial Street

NANAIMO – Evening and weekend users still won’t have to pay $1.25 hourly rate.

Drivers will soon pay to park on Canada’s greatest street.

Stalls on Nanaimo’s Commercial Street, which won recognition in 2011 as Canada’s greatest street, will cost drivers $1.25 an hour when the City of Nanaimo installs new multi-space parking machines in the next 10 days. Parking was previously free for two hours.

The move is part of an $897,250 parking strategy, approved in 2014 that included a hike to meter rates and elimination of free parking in downtown and Old City Quarter, aimed at boosting turnover in merchant areas and greater use of parkades.

Multi-space machines, similar to the kiosks in parkades, will go where there’s currently parking meters or free parking, including Front, Commercial, Skinner and Chapel streets. The city will leave a one-hour free zone on Wharf Street people use to drop off library books, and evening and weekends will continue to be free downtown.

People will punch licence plate numbers into the new machines and Rod Davidson, city manager of bylaw, regulation and security, said one benefit is that once registered, people can move their cars to other street spots during the same session without having to pay again.

Davidson plans to talk to the city purchasing department this week around pay-by-phone service, where people could use an app on smartphones to pay for parking, get alerts when sessions are about to expire and extend time limits.

The system ties into the city’s existing licence plate-recognition technology, which can determine with a scan if people have paid, and is “much more efficient” for the workforce, according to Davidson.

The project costs $250,000 and is paid for with parking reserves.

“As we move ahead and the downtown gets busier and busier, by having multi-space machines it allows us to look at different technologies and different ways of handling the parking,” Davidson said, adding if parking was, for example, averaging 85-90 per cent full, with the new machines and technology the city can look at demand-based parking where rates rise and fall depending on the use.

John Cooper, president of the Downtown Nanaimo Business Improvement Association, said his group supports adjustments to parking policy that help merchants get more business and this does that over time. The association has found because Commercial Street is free, stalls were being taken up by staff and people downtown for the day between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. when there was a need for turnover, but there wasn’t a need outside of those times. It agreed to meter stalls if they were free evenings and weekends.

“If our longtime shoppers and employers get trained through this metering to use the parkades we’re actually going to free up more convenient parking; we should see an increase in consumer spending and increase in the size of our downtown shopping user group over time,” Cooper said.

The city will help drivers learn to use the machines when they are first installed.