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Mayor defends pay parking decision

Over 1,500 people join Facebook group, sign petitions

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Over 1,500 people have joined the anti-pay parking Facebook group and hundreds more have signed paper petitions circulating in Whistler Village.

But one month after the grass-roots movement against charging for parking at the Telus Conference Centre began, Mayor Ken Melamed said he has no immediate plans to reverse the situation.

"It is my intention to carry forward on the parking pricing strategy," said the mayor, who has also received more than 150 e-mails in the past week on the subject.

"On many levels, I believe we are 10 years behind what is known as best practice in transportation demand management policy across North America and the world."

Melamed has a question he wants to put back to people who are concerned about the $10 day fee at the conference centre: how would the community instead like to reduce number of people who drive to the village?

"Given the community, over a number of years, has come to an agreement that reducing automobile and vehicle traffic is consistent with community priorities, the question is how does the council effectively influence the transportation choices of residents and visitors," said Melamed, citing the Whistler 2020 vision process.

Pay parking was introduced to the conference centre in April. Council also decided to raise parking rates on Main Street by $1. The reason behind these moves, said council members, was to balance the municipality's finances and take the pressure off property taxes.

But many residents and businesses in Whistler are outraged by the change, and an informal paper petition was started mid-April by a group of businesses. The website www.freewhistlerparking.com was also launched. A few weeks later, another individual began a Facebook group.

"Everyone is against this," Lauren Sampson, the founder of the Facebook group, said this week.

"There have been a couple of people that have commented that they don't care because they don't have a car but 99 per cent of the Whistler community is definitely against this decision that Ken (Melamed) made."

Sampson pointed out that, as of last Monday, 1,598 people had joined her Facebook group. She says only 1,218 people voted for Melamed in the last election.

"I think we have made it clear to Ken that the community is against this decision," said Sampson.

"If he could prove this would be good for the community, that would be great. We have raised this issue to the point he should be aware he should do further analysis if he wants to maintain these policies."

Beyond the personal cost to park in the conference centre, many community members are concerned the new prices will adversely affect businesses located around the area.

But this week, Melamed said the municipality studied many of its competitors - like Aspen and Vail - before going ahead with the decision to implement pay parking. These studies show pay parking is not necessarily bad for business.

When Aspen decided to start charging to park on their main street, explained the mayor, their community also was upset about the change.

"Businesses claimed that it had a negative impact on their business, but the town went ahead with it anyway. After a short period of time, the opposite was true. It was seen to be a boost to the downtown core."

Likewise, he said before pay parking arrived at the conference centre, the underground lot was often full because many people working in the village would park there all day long, leaving fewer spaces for customers.

"The best thing for businesses is to have available parking there and high turn over and not have those spaces taken up by staff," said Melamed.

The mayor said he hasn't had a chance to read all of the 150 e-mails he has received on this issue, but he is concerned by the number of times people claim in the letters that the municipality is taking away free parking, forcing people to pay for parking, or telling people not to drive.

The municipality plans to leave Day Skier Lots 4 and 5 free indefinitely, said Melamed, so there will still be free parking in the village, and people can park there if they choose to drive.

He said instead: "By putting a price on parking and the convenience that parking provides, we are encouraging people to reflect on their transportation choices."

Next summer, Day Lots 1, 2 and 3 will also become pay parking, while Lots 4 and 5 will remain free. The plan to convert the day lots to pay parking has been on municipal books for years.

The mayor added that for many years, the municipality has provided parking meters for a small up-front cost to residents that tracks parking with a pre-paid card chip. This meter could help solve some of the problems residents have mentioned associated with pay parking, like trying to find appropriate change or feeling rushed while in the village

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