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Ucluelet considering charging tourists a parking fee

Ucluelet is considering following Tofino into charging tourists a fee to park in the community
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Parkings fees could be coming to visitors in Ucluelet, but the town’s municipal council wants to hear local opinions first. (Andrew Bailey photo)

Ucluelet is considering charging tourists a fee to park in the community.

During the town council’s Oct. 25 meeting, CAO Duane Lawrence presented a potential visitor parking program.

Lawrence explained the program was part of a request from council in February for staff to investigate alternative revenue generation to help cover the cost of “the forecasted infrastructure deficits that we know the municipality is experiencing.”

“Part of the rationale there was that we’re taxing local residents and bringing in property taxes to deal with some of that, but the municipality has limited abilities to access direct revenues from visitors that utilize that infrastructure as well,” he said.

“Staff took a look at different opportunities and there’s actually very limited opportunities for a municipality to generate additional revenues, but one that jumped out and is

being used in other communities on the West Coast as well as throughout more urban areas, but also throughout the province, is parking programs.”

He said staff looked into the possibility of a pay parking program and what the potential revenue could be, as well as potential impacts.

He suggested staff had brought the idea to council to gauge council’s interest in a potential pay parking program and whether they’d like staff to further explore the idea.

He said revenue generation is needed to offset the impacts of tourism related increases with eyes set on reducing the long term borrowing requirements for a water treatment project, an anticipated borrowing requirements for a new fire apparatus, funding for maintenance and replacement of ageing infrastructure and rising costs related to bylaw enforcement and parks and trail maintenance directly related to increased visitor presence.

“It’s not intended to access additional revenues from residents. They’re already paying their property taxes, so there’s no intent of actually gaining additional resources or adding additional expenses to local residents that live here permanently,” he said.

“Any program that would be implemented would be focused on visitors coming into the community. All permanent Ucluelet residents would be exempt from the program.”

He added that Ucluelet currently does not have a parking problem.

“We don’t have to move people out of our downtown area. We have upwards of 840 parking stalls throughout the community in the downtown core, at the lighthouse, Brown’s Beach, Big Beach et cetera, so we don’t have to shift people, we don’t have to move them along and keep them going to open up new spaces,” he said.

“We’re doing pretty good for our parking levels at this point in time, so we didn’t need a parking program that encouraged people to stay shorter periods of time.”

He suggested staff is recommending a flat, daily rate and including all public parking spots throughout the community in the program.

“People come in, pay a $5 or $10 nominal fee and they can stay the day and enjoy all the different areas of the community and they don’t have to worry about spending $2 or $3 an hour throughout the community depending on where they are and what they’re planning on doing. So it’s a very simple system,” he said.

He added the level of enforcement needed is up for discussion.

“We are a resort municipality, so we want that visitor experience to be positive. The worst thing to do is come visit a community and get a ticket, so our initial thoughts are that it would be a warning type system, pretty low-key, but if you don’t have any enforcement, then people will ignore your system completely, so you need some level of enforcement.”

He said a parking enforcement team could be looked at, but staff does not believe that would be required.

“I think it would be overkill,” he said.

He added the fee would not likely deter visitors.

“A nominal fee of $5 to $10 is not a huge amount when you’re considering the meals or the accommodation rates that are out there right now. People coming out to our community are making quite a significant journey already. A $5 or $10 fee is unlikely to change their behaviours and their habits,” he said.

He said operational expenses would include a third-party contract to manage the program, which would likely include a flat rate as well as a percentage of total revenue generated.

He added the district’s revenue estimates are “very cautious” and are based on a total of 839 tourist accommodation rooms and 210 vehicles to come to $460,000 of potential revenue.

“This, we feel is fairly pessimistic…but it’s better to be on the low side than the high side,” he said, adding that estimate does not include day visitors.

He said subtracting operational expenses would lead to a net revenue would be about $200,000, “if we had to guess.”

Mayor Marilyn McEwen said she liked the flat rate idea at $10 a day, but suggested not charging the town’s neighbours like Hitacu, Electoral Area C and Tofino.

“I would like them to not have to be charged anything, that’s just how I feel about residents versus visitors,” she said.

Coun. Ian Kennington asked about seasonal workers being exempt as well.

“They’re not making a ton of money and they’re coming in their vans and sometimes sleeping in them, but that’s not the point, the point being that we have a seasonal work force which is already kind of hard to pertain,” he said.

Lawrence responded that the district could include an exemption for anybody working in the community.

Coun. Jennifer Hoar said $10 for a day might be too high and suggested a weekly rate could be included offering “a deal” to visitors and inducing more buy-in to the program.

She added that she wanted to know what the operational costs would be before determining which communities to include for free.

”If you live on this side of Sutton Pass, I don’t really want you paying full-hit, but if it turns out that the operational costs are quite high and we need to make sure that those are covered than a nominal fee maybe I would not be adverse to,” she said.

Lawrence responded that more research is needed to come up with a specific operational cost, but it would need to lead to generate revenue to be worth it.

“It would have to be a significant benefit to the community for revenue generation and not just all going to a parking purveyor,” he said.

He reiterated that the program’s intent is specifically to generate revenue.

“We don’t have a (parking) congestion issue. We don’t need to move people along, but we are feeling the pinch with respect to how do we pay for the increased demands on our infrastructure,” he said.

Hoar agreed with the community-wide approach, suggesting that would prevent parkers from congesting other roads to avoid fees.

Coun. Kennington raised Lawrence’s estimate of a roughly $200,000 net revenue and questioned whether it was worth going forward.

“It seems like a lot of work and ill-will, if you will, for $200,000…I just wonder if it’s really worth going down there because we have other things to work on and value for time invested, I don’t see it at $200,000. My initial dreams were in the millions and I had buy-in, but now I’m curious if it’s worth pursuing at all,” he said.

Lawrence responded that the estimates provided “is the absolute most pessimistic number I could possibly come up with.”

“This is the bare bones. This is the worst case scenario,” he said.

Coun. Mark Maftei said he was “fairly strongly against” the idea.

“One of the things that jumped out at me here is a statement that demand on our infrastructure is compounded by expanding visitor presence that triples demand levels. During peak tourist season Ucluelet can see demands on our infrastructure that are equivalent to over 6,000 permanent residents,” he said.

“It’s shocking and one of the questions that immediately comes to my mind is maybe the issue here is that we’re dealing with over-visitation in which case we should stop attracting visitors. Instead of looking at how we can profit in some small way off of them, we should realize that there’s no way that whatever they’re paying for parking is going to make up for the actual value.”

He added that he also opposed the move towards extracting more dollars from tourists.

“To my mind it comes down to a philosophical question whether we want to welcome people to our community or whether we want to exploit the people that come to our community. Quite frankly, to me a pay parking program like this to be blunt, I feel like it’s a cash grab. It’s opportunistic and it’s commodifying our community as a destination,” he said.

“I’m really glad that our community has been able to transition from a resource based economy to a tourist based economy. I think that’s something we should all be proud of. But, I don’t think that we should now start figuring out how we can squeeze more money from the people that are coming here to support our community.”

He suggested putting the question to the community and gathering feedback on how residents feel about the idea.

“I agree that there are some very logical, rational reasons behind a program like this. I don’t think it’s crazy. It just doesn’t appeal to my sense of what I think Ucluelet should be, or what I want it to be. But, again, I’m one Ucluetian and I’d like to hear from the other 1,800 before I feel like I can make a recommendation on their behalf,” he said.

Lawrence responded that many other communities have parking programs in place and noted that tourism’s population swells over the summer are not going to stop.

“That demand on our infrastructure is already in existence and is not going anywhere unless we are able to reduce the number of beds in our community and restrict visitation somehow,” he said.

“Future growth in the community for visitors is something that council definitely has control over, but the existence of the already available spaces would be very difficult to undo.”

Council directed their staff to undertake a community survey and bring a follow up report back to council.

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Andrew Bailey

About the Author: Andrew Bailey

I arrived at the Westerly News as a reporter and photographer in January 2012.
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