The $2.8 million shortfall in the municipality's 2011 budget is being largely blamed on two culprits: transit costs, which have increased $2.3 million more than projected, and automobile drivers, who have not taken to pay parking as expected. Consequently revenue from pay parking, projected over a year, will be less than $1 million, or about 46 per cent of the $2 million anticipated.
Paying to park is a fact of life in urban centres the world over, but it takes a bit of coaxing and convincing when it's introduced to an area that has always provided it for free. That didn't seem to be a concern in 2008 when the previous council was approving the paving of the day skier lots and the deal that transferred ownership of the lots to the municipality in exchange for building the debris barrier on Fitzsimmons Creek.
"We get ownership of the parking lots, we get a debris barrier, and the icing on the cake is this is not costing taxpayers. It is revenue neutral," said former councillor Bob Lorriman.
"The intent was we didn't want it (the money generated by pay parking) to go into general revenue," Chief Administrative Officer Bill Barratt said in the summer of 2008. "Whistler Blackcomb agreed that they did not want it to be a revenue generator for them.... We thought it would be a great way to fund some affordability programs."
Approximately $500,000 of the $2 million annual revenue from pay parking was expected to go towards a transit affordability program to encourage residents to take transit through reduced bus fares. But how the $2 million annual revenue figure came about didn't seem to get much scrutiny.
At that time it was expected there would be 876 parking stalls in lots 1, 2 and 3 after they were paved. Assuming that number is still in the ballpark, each parking stall would have to generate $2,283 annually to reach $2 million. Over 365 days, that translates to $6.25 per day from each parking stall.
Rates are $8 per day in the winter, $12 per day in the summer, $5 for the evening and $1 for the first hour. Based on the $8 per day rate each stall would have to be used 285 days per year to generate $2 million annually. In retrospect, that was extremely optimistic for something that was previously free.
But the problem is more than just overly optimistic revenue projections. As was the case with the aborted introduction of pay parking in the conference centre last year, little effort was made to persuade the driving public of the merits of paying to park in lots 1, 2 and 3. Moreover, as municipal staff have now acknowledged, drivers were still given the option of free parking in lots 4 and 5, a disincentive to use the pay-parking lots.
On top of this, Whistler Blackcomb, which is managing the day skier lots, has introduced additional free parking this winter at the Timing Flats and above Base II. This comes at a time when the economy is stagnant and when regional skiers - most of whom drive to Whistler - are expected to be a far more significant part of the market than destination visitors, who most commonly don't have a vehicle in Whistler.
There is also anecdotal evidence that the introduction of pay parking in lots 1, 2 and 3 has shifted travel patterns, both away from the village and within the village itself. Pay parking was only introduced in July but the free lots, 4 and 5, at the north end of the village may be helping business at that end of the village, at the expense of businesses at the south end. Some shifting of travel patterns is inevitable when Olympic Plaza is finished next summer and it exerts some gravitational pull on pedestrians. But in the meantime the inequity in the day lots is an issue for some village businesses.
The village has always been the focal point for tourism and commerce in Whistler. It was painstakingly designed to be that focal point and each decision that blurs that - whether it's allowing commercial hubs elsewhere in the valley or creating confusing, inequitable barriers to the village - weakens Whistler as a whole.
The primary goal of pay parking in the day skier lots seems, in retrospect, to have been to raise $2 million annually. Getting people out of their cars and into buses was a secondary goal. Neither has been met. Instead, there may be negative consequences for some village businesses.
Pay parking is here to stay but it needs to be rethought. The municipality has to look at what it needs to achieve, what it is trying to achieve and convey those goals to the public. This evaluation needs to be done in the context of winter and summer and providing a more even playing field for all.