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City of Nanaimo moves to take away free long-term parking for disabled permit holders

Concerns raised about abuse of parking permit in city parkades

For decades, motorists with a city-issued disabled parking permit could park their vehicle for as long as they wanted, without charge, in any city-owned parking garage. That’s about to change.

During a council meeting on Monday night, city councillors unanimously passed three readings of a proposed amendment to an old parking bylaw that, if adopted, would end certain exemptions for disabled parking permit holders.

The existing bylaw, which has been in place since 1993, allows disabled parking permit holders unlimited free parking in city-owned parkades. Under the proposed amendment, permit holders would only be granted two hours of free parking in city parkades before being required to pay existing rates.

Council’s decision to pass three readings comes after a recent staff report recommended councillors end the exemption for disabled parking permit holders due to a “small subset” of residents who have been taking advantage of the exemption by leaving their vehicles in parkades for months at a time.

According to the report, city staff identified 14 vehicles with disabled parking permits that were being “stored” long-term at the Harbourfront and Port of Nanaimo Centre parkades. Those 14 vehicles, the report notes, represent $18,480 in lost annual revenue for the city, as a monthly parking pass at a city parkade is $110.

During Monday’s meeting, Dale Lindsay, the city’s general manager of community development, said the 1993 bylaw has produced “unintended consequences” because some permit holders are using the parkades as a place to park their vehicle for long periods of time. He said the long-term storage of vehicles in parkades goes against the bylaw’s real intention, which was to provide free parking to people with disabilities, and takes away disabled parking spaces from other people who need them.

“It is not what we believe the intention of providing this exemption was. But more importantly it doesn’t allow for those spaces to actually be available to users when they enter into the parkades and are looking to access those parking stalls,” he said.

Dave LaBerge, the city’s manager of bylaw service, told councillors that staff found that some vehicles had been sitting with flat tires for months. He also said ending the exemption will actually improve accessibility for people with disabilities.

“Through this amendment, I think it will actually improve their accessibility because the designated handicapped parking is in the places with the best access to exits and closest to the amenities like the theatre,” he said. “Those spaces are currently being filled by vehicles that aren’t moving.”

LaBerge also said that in 1993 the city’s downtown was a much different place than it is today. He said the demand for parking in parkades was far lower back then.

“We are at the point now where certain times of the day and different days of the week, particularly when there are events at the conference centre and theatre, that our parkade and off-street facilities are fully to capacity,” he said. “It’s a much different dynamic.”

Coun. Sheryl Armstrong said she felt two hours of free parking wasn’t enough time for people with disabilities.

“I personally think a three-hour time limit might be better because I’ve watched some people struggle for 25-30 minutes trying to get their wheelchair out,” she said.

Coun. Ben Geselbracht said while he doesn’t doubt there is abuse by some permit holders, he believes there should have been some consultation. He said it might have been wise for staff to look into why vehicles were being stored in parkades.

“It would be interesting to hear what the back story is of folks parking there, just in the off chance that there is something that we didn’t quite know about…” he said. “I’m curious if there is any possibility with this change that we could look into what was the reasoning behind that and find that out and make a change just to avoid any unintended consequences.”

LaBerge said there hadn’t been public consultation.

“Simply, we thought overall the abuse of these [permits] is actually inhibiting the ability of the folks with handicapped needs to access the parking that has been provided and designated for their use,” he said. 
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