Downtown street stalls are now free on Saturdays thanks to a change that a Nanaimo merchant organization calls one of the most “positively impactful adjustments” to parking policy in years.
For the next year, people will no longer have to pay on Saturdays to use metered street stalls downtown, adding to parking already free for drivers on Sunday, evenings and statutory holidays.
The new one-year pilot program, approved by Nanaimo city council last week, was driven by the Downtown Nanaimo Business Improvement Association, which aims to boost parking demand and the number of people who visit the south-end shopping district.
In a letter to the city, John Cooper, association president, said many downtown business owners are still struggling to attract customers while commercial vacancy rates have never been higher.
With parking infrastructure use also low, and no demand for parking on evenings and weekends, the organization believes it’s “critically important” to offer free parking during off-peak hours.
The new change is for on-street metered spots in the Old City Quarter and downtown and carries a two-hour limit.
It does not apply to the Harbourfront and Port of Nanaimo parkades and will be monitored by the city to see if traffic increases on weekends.
It also follows a year-long trial to offer free weekend parking at the Bastion Street parkade and a city parking strategy that’s set to eliminate free two-hour parking downtown and increase meter rates for the first time in a decade.
“It’s a good first step,” said Cooper, who said it’s among a number of things on which the organization has been working with the city and its parking administration and provides a valuable promotional opportunity for downtown businesses. “We are hoping it’s going to have a big improvement on downtown economic activity.”
Coun. Ian Thorpe supported the trial run.
“That’s an excellent first step and we can see where it goes to and in the meantime, hopefully be having ongoing discussions about the city’s philosophy about parking and metering and other issues,” he said.
Coun. Jim Kipp also supported the promotion of free parking, but said the city has to look at dismantling parking meters downtown.
Even without the Saturday revenue, the City of Nanaimo still expects to make between $8,000 and $12,000 more than previous years because of increased parking fees under its new strategy. Progress of the pilot will be tracked by the business improvement association and City of Nanaimo over the next year. A report will go to council at the end of the trial period next December.