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City looks to hike parking rates, extend paid hours

City of Thunder Bay administration is recommending steep hikes to parking rates in a bid to staunch losses at the parking authority.
Parking Meter

THUNDER BAY – The City of Thunder Bay is proposing a deep overhaul of its parking policies that would include steep increases to rates, paid parking at all Marina Park lots, and significantly extended paid parking hours.

The proposed changes are included in a 10-year financial plan prepared by consultants Bain Smith that will be presented for a first look to city council on Monday, before public consultation and a final decision in January.

Among the biggest proposed changes:

  • Steep increases to most parking rates at meters, lots, and parkades in 2024
  • Inflationary increases to rates from 2025 onwards
  • Extending paid parking times to 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday to Saturday
  • Paid parking at all Marina Park lots, excluding boating spaces
  • Closing five underutilized surface lots (Camelot, Crooks, Machar, Viscount and Nesco)

If approved by council, the changes are planned for implementation in June of 2024.

The proposals are outlined in a report from administration. The full draft financial plan is also available online.                                          

The changes respond to longstanding financial challenges for the parking authority that were exacerbated by COVID-19.

The city injected $2.7 million into the Thunder Bay Parking Authority between 2020 and 2022 to stem losses largely related to its operation of two underused and aging parkades.

The last term of city council voted not to sell the parkades in 2021 despite those losses, weighing benefits the structures provide and eyeing the possibility they could become more popular after projects underway to revitalize both downtowns.

Without COVID funding from upper levels of government, the city says the parking authority would already have run through its reserves.

General manager of corporate services Karen Lewis said while some residents may experience sticker shock at the proposed rate hikes, they’ll set a course for a sustainable system and hopefully avoid the need to prop up parking using taxpayer dollars.

“Really at the heart of it, there is no such thing as free parking,” she said. “It’s either paid for by the user, or it's paid for by the taxpayer.”

Coun. Brian Hamilton, who sits on the parking authority’s board, agreed.

“Ultimately taxpayers have to pay for parking,” he said. “Whether it's a user-pay system or it's bailouts, or having to replenish reserve funds down the road, one way or another, parking has to be paid for.”

The proposed changes would see meter rates jump from $1.50 to $2 per hour. The report estimates the average rate in comparable municipalities is $1.96 per hour.

Metered lots at Marina Park would charge a premium, at $3 an hour.

Monthly parkade rentals, meanwhile, would increase from $67.50 to $90, while the city would also offer a lower $5 per day parkade rate.

Overall, the report found Thunder Bay’s parking rates were significantly lower than a list of comparable municipalities including Kingston, Guelph, Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie.

“My opinion is that market rates [in line] with our comparative municipalities is going to be what it takes to keep our system viable and solvent… to allow the parking authority to operate independently, care for its own needs, and not rely on taxpayer bailouts in bad years,” said Hamilton.

Hamilton, who owns a coffee shop in the Bay and Algoma area, believes the changes will be supported by many business owners, since paid parking encourages more circulation.

He argued that logic applies to paid parking at the waterfront, too.

“If we have people parking down at the marina and then walking to work and leaving their cars there for eight hours, that's not a good system,” he said. “That takes away parking meters from people who need to park, visitors… and families that want to come and enjoy the amenities we have.”

TBnewswatch reported in July the Parking Authority was considering implementing paid parking at the Market Square lot, located between the splash pad/skating rink and Delta hotel.

At the time, city staff seemed to indicate other waterfront lots would remain free of charge, guarding against concerns the cost could be a barrier for low-income residents to visit Marina Park.

A previous move to consider introducing paid parking across all Marina Park lots was abandoned in 2017 after widespread public opposition.

The financial plan also proposes dissolving the Parking Authority board, transferring governance fully to city council.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated paid parking hours would be extended to 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. In fact, paid hours would be extended to start at 7 a.m., until 9 p.m.

The article also misstated current parking meter rates as $1.25 per hour, when they are in fact $1.50 per hour. TBnewswatch apologizes for the errors.

Ian Kaufman

About the Author: Ian Kaufman

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