An extra hour of free parking has been given a warm reception by members of Greater Sudbury’s downtown business community.
At least, among those Sudbury.com reached out to earlier this week. Although they expressed a number of opinions about downtown and parking, none were negative as it relates to the change.
Ward 4 Coun. Geoff McCausland introduced a successful motion earlier this month to have each weekday’s free on-street parking begin at 5 p.m. instead of the current 6 p.m.
The change will take effect soon, if not already, and extend to the end of the year. City council will debate during 2022 budget deliberations on whether to make the change permanent.
“You have to make it easy to buy, and that includes parking,” Reg Wilkinson Men’s, Ladies and Footwear owner Todd Wilkinson said, adding that he welcomes the extra hour of free parking.
At the same time, he contends that paid parking is a “necessary evil,” because, without it, parking spots would be filled all day by employees and area residents, leaving customers walking farther distances. This, he said, is what happened at certain times during the pandemic when the city offered free parking.
But, he said the extra hour beginning at 5 p.m. shouldn’t contribute to this potential problem.
To make parking easier for his customers, Wilkinson has a HotSpot Parking tablet people with the accompanying parking app on their phones can tap to automatically credit 65 cents to their accounts. He also hands out cards with two quarters inside to help cover customers’ parking.
Hair Central Sudbury owner Lisa Comisso said that the extra hour of free parking should make life a little easier for her clients.
It’s timely to see the idea pitched now, she said, since it gets dark early at this time of year and she doesn’t feel good about having people wander the streets in search of a parking machine.
Although welcoming of the extra hour of free parking, Rosy’s Corner Restaurant owner Maria Rio said she has heard from customers about how difficult the city’s parking system can be.
“The customers I have, they have a hard time with these machines,” she said, adding that seniors in particular struggle with navigating them.
“People bitch about having to pay,” Huckleberries Chocolatiers owner Denise Regaudie said, adding that a number of them have come into the store to tear a strip off of her about it.
“5 p.m. would be better than nothing.”
Peppi Panini owner Jay Bertin said that although he has no problem with the extra hour of free parking, the minor change “will make no difference.”
The city needs to make dealing with the city’s homelessness problem a priority, he said, particularly the encampment at Memorial Park.
“Nothing else should matter right now.”
With 6 p.m. “missing the mark a little bit,” Downtown Sudbury Business Improvement Area managing director Kyle Marcus said 5 p.m. is an ideal time for free parking to kick in.
People tend to get off work around 5 p.m., and he said free parking encourages them to hang around downtown for a little bit after work.
“We don’t have much residential downtown, so it’s nice when people stay and patronize businesses, going for that pair of pants or that cocktail and pizza before you leave to go home for the weekend,” he said.
“I know that parking is one of people’s least-favourite parts of downtown, so this allows a little bit more malleability of where you can park.”
Although he said the downtown could still use a long-term parking garage, there’s adequate parking in the area, “regardless of what the typical narrative is.” People might have to walk a block or two to get to their destination, he said, but the parking is there.
McCausland’s motion directs staff to commence a pilot program that permits on-street parking without a charge after 5 p.m. for the balance of the year and for a business case to be developed for 2022 budget deliberations that would seek to make the change permanent.
The estimated cost of the change is approximately $15,000 per year.
“This is not a significant amount considering our main budget, but it’s the kind of thing that could make a significant difference to the downtown,” McCausland said.
City general manager of corporate services Kevin Fowke concurred with McCausland’s cost estimate, noting that parking revenue is low at that time of the day and is paired against savings related to an hour less of enforcement costs.
The motion was presented during a finance and administration meeting earlier this month, where it received unanimous support. McCausland has since noted the change requires a simple software update that would be finalized at any time, if not already.
In the event city council supports a business case to make the change permanent, signs and advertising regarding downtown parking will be updated to reflect 5 p.m. rather than 6 p.m.
The city currently charges $1.30 per hour for up to three hours for on-street metered parking from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday, with parking outside of these hours free of charge.
Elm Street metered parking is limited to one hour, costs $2 for the full hour, with no parking allowed during weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3:30 to 6 p.m.