Downtown drivers are experiencing sticker shock after receiving notice of the coming increases to their parking rates.
Effective Jan. 1, a new off-street parking fee structure, approved by council Sept. 23, will bump monthly rates up between 12 and 85 per cent, depending on the location. The city's bylaw department sent out letters last week informing permit holders of their new rate.
Upon finding out her monthly rate would nearly double from $49 to $90 (plus tax) at the Second Avenue Parkade, Sherrie Serres promptly looked for a cheaper option.
She found one at the uncovered Columbus lot on Second Avenue for $55, which she was told was the location's last available space. "And even though I moved within the city [owned lots], they still charge you a $20 transfer fee."
Megan MacInnes was also disappointed with the new rate, as she had recently changed lots for a cheaper price. "I don't always have the option of running outside every two hours and try to find a parking spot, so I do it the proper way," she said. She moved from the underground lot on Sixth Avenue to the above-ground site on Fifth Avenue to save $240 per year.
"I am appalled, not only that the city would increase parking 31 per cent, but that my savings in switching parking lots is now gone," she said. "So the city's parking idea gets squashed and this is how the citizens of Prince George get treated?"
It was a frustration shared by Veronica Pederson, who pays for her parking six months at a time at the Westel lot off Victoria Street.
"I was under the impression they [city council] just turned down the idea of putting up meters for the downtown street parking," said Pederson. "I am concerned if this is how they intend to make up for it."
But the new rates were part of the core services review implementation plan approved by council in early July and the city has been reviewing the market rates of parking stalls for over the past two years, said Mayor Shari Green.
"That decision was made independent of council's on-street parking decision of this September to retain free parking on street," she said.
The new rates are supposed to bring the city fees in line with cities like Nanaimo, Kamloops and Kelowna.
The last rate increase was in 2011. A report to council from the finance and audit committee at that time indicated the city-operated parkades averaged 55 per cent of the mean rates charged by the comparison cities.
Downtown Business Improvement Association president Rod Holmes said the rates themselves aren't the problem, but the rate of increase.
"We know the bills have to be paid. There's not a question about that, never have denied that," he said. "But at the same token, things have to be reasonable."
Holmes said it also would have been nice to see changes to on-street parking and enforcement and the increase to off-street rates as a total package.
"So it would have been nice to have this as part of an overall strategy because if we're moving them off the street, they have to go somewhere," he said. "And although the rates are not abusive, the increases are somewhat ridiculous because for instance, the Plaza parkade... the rates are doubling. It's a 100 per cent increase. And that's a heck of a lot."
Council is aware that no one wants to pay more if they don't have to, said Green, but that the city "did not do itself any favours by charging less than market rates for the number of years it has."
"We now have aging infrastructure that requires significant capital investment," she said, adding the rent collected will be used specifically for those off-street parking facility costs.