Opinion » Maxed Out

Has pay parking's time finally come?


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Victoria Day marks the beginning of summer in Canada. Doesn't matter whether the long weekend happens to fall during a particularly nasty bit of weather. After enduring winter — perhaps particularly this winter — Canadians will brave the foulest spring weather to pretend summer's arrived. Neither rain, sleet nor unseasonable snowfall will keep us from grilling weenies, gathering in recreationland, lining up for ferries to get somewhere so we can line up for ferries back two days hence, and enjoying the great outdoors even if it requires campfires the size of funeral pyres or, increasingly and dismayingly, all manner of propane-fuelled ersatz firepits. Canada: Heating the great outdoors because we're sick and tired of heating the great indoors.

Should you be calendar-challenged or one of those lucky people for whom the mindless phrase, "Have a nice weekend," is meaningless, since you either work weekends or don't work at all and are therefore charter members of the Thank God It's Monday club, the first long weekend of summer is impossible to miss unless you're hunkered down inside your cocoon binging on Netflix or some similar piffle. Even a simple walk, bike ride or drive to the village is an inescapable tip off when you finally notice you're caught in the middle of an RV hatch. Like mayflies (Ephemeroptera) or caddisflies (Trichoptera) — Latin: use it or lose it — RVs seem to explode all at once from wherever they've hibernated all winter. One day, none; the next, they're everywhere, as annoying as mayfiles and many times more dangerous.

In Tiny Town, we celebrate Victoria Day in the traditional way, trying not to get mugged in the village by lower-mainland droogs up for a bit of the old ultra-violence, and talking wistfully about back in the day when we had shoulder seasons, times we could unwind, renovate and/or be thankful for a disappearing bit of time to ourselves. But with this long weekend being the opening of both the bike park and Festival Season, I'm reminded of the world-weary words of a long time, local physiotherapist. "We used to have shoulder season. Now that the bike park picks up where ski season winds down, we have dislocated shoulder season." But, as people who live close to working pulp mills like to say, "It's the smell of money."

But since it's also the smell of vehicle exhaust, it seems an appropriate time for the local political class to see if they can successfully grab the third-rail of local politics. Yes, boys and girls, it's time to play Pay Parking Roulette once again, the game where everybody loses and nobody wins.

Let me take a moment for the sake of those wondering what the heck I mean by the third-rail of local politics. It's a bit of jargonese suggesting those who touch the issue die, much as someone touching the third-rail of an electric train system, the rail that carries the juice, get fried for their inattentiveness.

In politics, though, it isn't inattentiveness that tempts those who grab the third-rail. It's generally some mix of good intentions and hubris.

Which brings us to the tawdry history of Tiny Town's version of Pay Parking Roulette. Way back in 2010-11, in the post-Olympic hangover of rapid growth, obscene spending and unpleasant property tax increases, when the town was run by the Green Mafia and no price was too dear to achieve the holy grail of sustainability — let us pause for a moment of silence for the late, great quest for sustainability, the only vestige of its passing being the Whistler Centre for Sustainability — pay parking at the day skier lots turned out to be, in fact, a price too dear.

The concept was simple. Charge for parking to: (a) offset the cost of a debris barrier; or (b) fund better transit; or (c) because it's the right thing to do; or (d) because council thought they could get away with it; or (e) none or all of the above. Pay parking went through three iterations, each more tortured than the one preceding it and each the political equivalent of pouring gasoline on a dying fire.

Confusing pay stations were set up in lots 1 through 4. Hard lines were softened. Demonstrations were organized... sort of. People were infuriated. Council was unrepentant.

So how did that turn out? After the November 2011 municipal election, Whistler had a new mayor, the one we still have, and six new councillors. Not because none of the previous councillors choose to run. But because all were defeated. Ignominious doesn't begin to capture the tectonic defeat that took place but I've always wanted to use the word ignominious and tectonic in the same sentence; now I have.

The first thing the new council did was reinstate free parking in Lots 4 and 5 and Lots 1 to 3 after 5:00 p.m.

And thus it has been... until now.

Under the guise of fighting gridlock, the Pay Parking Roulette game is once again afoot. Increased rates are being proposed for day lots 1, 2, and 3, the few spaces not already reserved for muni vehicles under the library and the conference centre. Nothing incendiary there. Oh, and no more free parking in Lots 4 and 5 other than maybe during the disappearing shoulder seasons and, of course, after 5:00 p.m.

Is that smoke I smell? Will this council be successful in going where no council has gone before... and survive? Only time will tell.

There may be a couple of bones thrown to locals, whoever they are, who work in the village and have the temerity to drive to work. One would be a $30/month rate for Lots 4 and 5. Given that's the current rate for Lots 1 to 3, and given there is an exodus of workerbees walking out of muni hall and down to Lot 4 every day, I'm guessing the best-paid staff in town hasn't been too keen on shelling out $30/month. Such is human nature.

So what's likely to be the howl from those working joejobs in the village? Hey, wait a minute. Maybe this is just another stunt from the Festivals, Events and Animation folks. Maybe this talk of pay parking is just part of the summer's entertainment. Stranger things have happened.

Intentional or not, the angst around pay parking shall prove to be ever enlivening. Bidnez persons will foretell doom and gloom. Angry locals will vow to never set foot in the village no matter how inexpensive the restaurant specials get and buy everything online. Greenies will tsk-tsk at the shortsightedness of gas-guzzling dinosaurs who won't just take transit. Transit haters will press the fight until their SUVs are pried from their cold, dead hands.

And after six years of somnambulant local politics, some of us will be thrilled to watch it unfold.

Happy summer.