Examination of new city revenue sources could take Calgary back to the decade-old debate over charging user fees for transit park and ride spaces.
In the budget passed by city council Nov. 29, the amended version explicitly includes “Park’n’Ride” fees as an area the city should target for “improve revenue streams.”
Calgary city council approved what amounts to a 7.5 per cent residential property tax increase, after the tax shift plan was implemented and the equivalent of city administration’s 1.5 per cent increase scenario.
The addition of this amendment came from Couns. Jyoti Gondek and Diane Colley-Urquhart, as the city embarks on service reviews of the different business units.
Gondek said we’re in an environment where we can’t keep going the way we’re going with Calgary’s budget. The review of the business units should be an opportunity to find efficiencies and, in this case, new revenue.
“If there’s some things that need to be a user-pay model, we absolutely need to be looking at them,” she said.
Calgary Transit parking fee introduced in 2009
Calgary Transit has roughly 17,000 parking spaces at 33 locations. There are 13,500 parking spots at CTrain station, according to the CT website. Currently, there is a reserved parking space system in place where Calgarians are charged a set fee to lock up stall daily. These spots cost $85 per month and are reserved from 2 a.m. to 10 a.m. daily.
In 2009, Calgary introduced a $3 fee for Calgary Transit parking spaces, intended at the time to provide additional revenue to offset growing security, cleaning and maintenance of the parking lots. It was collected using the Calgary Parking Authority’s (CPA) Park and Ride payment system.
“The need for park and ride improvements was highlighted in a safety audit and via concerns expressed by Council and transit customers,” read a 2011 Calgary Transit report.
Initially, there was a substantial decline in park and ride use, the report said, with revenue at $3.14 million in 2009. By 2010, the report showed that there was a surplus, with revenues reaching $4.96 million, with a total park and ride operating cost of $4.5 million.
(As an addendum to this story, Couns. Jeff Davison and Sean Chu are presenting a notice of motion to the Priorities and Finance Committee Dec. 3 to explore the CPA becoming a controlled corporation of the City of Calgary (wholly owned subsidiary), to assume responsibility and “materially increase the dividend” to the City.)
Less likely to ride Calgary Transit?
Back in 2010, there were concerns about creating a barrier to Calgary Transit use by having the fee, and at a time when Calgarians were struggling through the after effects of the 2008/2009 economic collapse, they didn’t need another fee to absorb.
“I do believe it was something to the nature of, “well, if you want me to take transit, don’t charge me to get on it. If you’re going to charge me three bucks, I’ll just drive all the way instead,’” Gondek, who wasn’t a councillor at the time, said of 2010 public concerns.
“Which to me is a rather weak argument, because if I was to use that, I’d be paying three bucks more to use transit versus 20 bucks to find a parking spot downtown.”
Mayor Naheed Nenshi, in his inaugural mayoral run, campaigned to have the transit parking fee abolished. He got his wish when Calgary city councillors voted to end it, beginning April 1, 2011.
Patrick, who withheld his last name, used to drive to either the Fish Creek or Heritage stations back in 2009, when the fee was first implemented.
“I was OK with it at the time because it was much easier to get a spot,” he said, later getting a job that included parking downtown.
“If they brought back the three dollars, I would consider driving downtown again.”
Patrick said once you factor in the $3.40 each way and $3 parking, it’s $9.80. He said you can find parking along 9 Avenue for between $10 and $15 per day.
‘Re-litigating’ old debate
Gondek said, in the words of other councillors, she may be “re-litigating” the debate over these park and ride fees, but it’s something that should be considered.
“If we are moving forward with the Green Line, and we’re making more stops available to people, is there an opportunity to look at promoting the idea of getting to your stop in a different way than driving,” Gondek said.
“And if you do have to drive, is it worth that three bucks to park and then take transit?”
Calgary Transit acknowledged a review.
“In the coming year, we will be reviewing park and ride fees and revenues to see if there is an opportunity to help offset the costs associated with running transit service. We are still in the very early stages and do not know what it could look like at this point,” read an emailed statement.
A 2010 city-wide survey cited by Calgary Transit showed that 41 per cent of Calgarians favoured a parking fee versus having those costs covered by the city or by fares.
That survey also showed a perception among users that Calgary Transit parking fees weren’t encouraging use of the system. It also showed there was an increase in the bus feeder system to get people to CTrain stations.
Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart, co-signer on the budget amendment including this, was among those councillors who voted at one point to retain the fee, according to a Calgary Herald article from 2010.