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Calgary residential permit parking: Should it be a user pay system?

If residents knew they’d be charged more for it down the road, some Calgary communities likely would have passed on residential permit parking altogether, said Liz Murray.

Calgary’s transit and transportation committee narrowly approved new residential parking permit (RPP) guidelines 5-4 after debate Oct. 21.  They now need to be approved at a full meeting of council.

The new guidelines, to be implemented by 2022, appear to be virtually the same as before, aside from a cap on permits and increased permit fees. They’re now on a sliding scale: $50 for the first permit, $75 for the second and $125 for the third. It’s capped at three per residence.  Visitor permits (max 2) will cost $75 annually.

The other major change is that city admin can implement a parking zone without council approval. The changes still need to be approved at a full meeting of council.

Murray, president of the St. Andrews Heights Community Association, said they’re faced with a double whammy. They have the Foothills Medical Centre (FMC) and the University of Calgary nearby.  There are thousands of employees, students and visitors who scoop up parking in the area instead of paying the daily lot fees next to their institution. Those lot fees range anywhere from $8 to $24 per day. 

“In a small community like ours, which is four blocks by five blocks, you’re faced with a tremendous amount of pressure from parking,” Murray said.

What makes matters worse, Murray said, is their area predates the construction of these Major Parking Generators, as the city will now call them.

Nearly all the homes were built without driveways, mostly laneway access with rear garages. People could just come and go and park out front, Murray said.

With the FMC and U of C built, parking demands in the community “just exploded,” she said.

Motivation behind parking permit changes

Parking permit areas are shaded in purple. CITY OF CALGARY REPORT

In the city’s presentation, parking strategist Robert White outlined what they hear in neighbourhoods about residential permit parking.  He said they hear that most neighbourhoods in Calgary are over-regulated.

“Because there’s very little data used at the block level, many neighbourhoods have tended towards a higher level of parking restriction than is needed to address the issues they see,” he said.

“In many cases this means empty streets, which is both inefficient and hurts the businesses and services that serve residents in these neighbourhoods.”

If new parking zones are established, the city will accept a community petition (80 per cent support required) and then collect data on the area to determine what kind of parking restrictions should be in place.

“This was an observed issue can be paired with an appropriate response,” White said.

“With similar issues, we’ll see similar tactics used.”

White also said they’d be collecting data in these permits zones to make small changes over time. No more “set-and-forget process we use today.”

“As parking congestion gets a lot more severe, restrictions can be increased. And, if they resolve, the restrictions can be loosened,” he said.

Currently, there are 36,000 residential permits. Residences can get two permits for free and then a third is $52 and $52 each thereafter. The average number of permits per residence in the 80 zones is 2.3. There’s no maximum number allowed. Visitor permits are currently free.

The revenue from this program is $94,500. With special zones permits it tops out at $101,000.

The current net cost of the RPP program is $1.369 million. After the changes, it will cost $1.081 million, with the bulk of that cost reduction coming from expected new revenue.

The city was seeking a program that better recovered costs, improving long term sustainability.

Inexpensive cost compared with the rest of Canada

In terms of current parking permit costs, the city is easily among the lowest in Canada. With the proposed change, the city would still be in the bottom quarter in the country.


Still, the increase in fees didn’t sit well with Ward 11 Coun. Jeromy Farkas.

“Why is now the time to bring in more fees on people who are particularly struggling? Struggling families, businesses and so forth,” Coun. Farkas asked.

White said that’s one reason for the phased in approach.

“By implementing fees beginning in 2022, it actually allows Calgarians that use the system today to be able to make a rational decision on whether the permit has value for them or not,” he said.

White said one of the most common things heard during public engagement was the reminder that Calgarians don’t own the street in front of their house. Typically, parking is done in garages or driveways in the rest of Calgary outside the 80 zones.

Residential Parking Permit … by Darren Krause

The permit is optional, too. A resident in one of the zones isn’t required to purchase a permit. They can park on the street unless there’s 24-hour, permit-only restrictions.

White also said that as they collect data, there may be changes to some of the zones. That could include removal of restrictions altogether.

It’s worked well – and now they pay

Parts of Murray’s St. Andrews Heights permitted community has two-hour parking restrictions (except with permit). Other parts are parking by permit only.

She said it’s a system that’s worked reasonably well for years. Having to pay for that space now, irks area residents.

“I pretty much have an original house in the neighbourhood and I pay more than $5,000 a year in taxes. Why does that not cover the cost of my parking permit?” Murray asked.

She questioned why, living in a compact community, she must pay for the permitting to have parking access. Someone living in the suburban areas of town that uses Crowchild Trail “that just got millions in upgrades” pays nothing extra.

“What’s going to end up happening is that people are going to protest having to pay for permits, so they’re going to have a block that’s permit only that no one will park in because they haven’t paid for a permit,” she said.

“Visitors can’t park there. So, then it becomes a dead space. It becomes space that won’t be used by homeowners or the public.”

She knows other Calgarians will take a look at the price of homes in the area and say, “you guys live in these big houses, you guys are all rich and what’s another $200 to get residential parking permits?”

Murray said 25 per cent of their residents are long term seniors. Mustering up an extra $50 or more can be a challenge. They’ll also have to pay for a permit any children can come to visit for a couple of hours each day.

“The permits were brought in prior to a fee ever being discussed,” she said.

“If people had known they would eventually have to pay, they likely wouldn’t have had the numbers to do it.”

Enforcement side of things

The Calgary Parking Authority. LIVEWIRE CALGARY FILE PHOTO

Murray said if the city was concerned about cost recovery on enforcement, they should come patrol their area.

She said that groups of hospital workers, to avoid paying in the lots, will park in a block that has a two-hour restriction. Like clockwork, one member, armed with a handful of car keys will move vehicles for the group.

“It’ll be your turn, you’ll go out, move five cars four feet and it’ll be someone else’s turn two hours later,” she said.

“I would think with the number of offenders that we have in our community, even now, that enforcement would pay for itself and not be a financial burden on the city.

In the Oct. 19 meeting, Todd Sullivan, the Calgary Parking Authority’s manager of parking safety and compliance, said they don’t have eyes out in communities all the time. Relying on complaints only would be time-consuming and reactive.

There are 8,000 kilometres of roads in the city and patrols are done several times per week. Enforcement costs exceed the amount of revenue they bring in.

“The distance we’d need to travel in following that complaint would basically eliminate any efficiency that we have with the program,” he said.

“And any ability to be there in time to be a preventative mechanism.”

Instead they look at areas where parking compliance is low.

“We have always tried to act on a proactive basis and go to areas where we know that there are issues,” Sullivan said.

Subsidizing preferential parking

Coun. Jeff Davison, chair of the city’s transportation and transit committee said there’s a cost to delivering the residential permit parking program. Right now, that cost is being shouldered by all Calgarians.

He said it needs to change.

“You’re allowed to park in front of your house anywhere in the city. Nobody’s taking that away from you,” he said.

“If you want a specialized guarantee that you can park on certain streets, user modeling is the way to look at that. The taxpayers have been subsidizing this for far too long.”

For Coun. Sean Chu, it was a question of aligning growth strategy with parking strategy.

“It’s basically council policy to increase density. To the point that we put density in certain areas and we force people to apply for the residential permit because there’s high density and more people parking,” he said.

He said the price for the parking goes up, while costs – as technology improves – goes down. As it stands, most of the system is automated anyway.

Coun. Jyoti Gondek didn’t see it as a development issue. She said the choice is simple: Do we want this to be strictly user pay, or not?

“I think it’s going to boil down to whether you believe that it’s OK for all taxpayers to cover the enforcement in these areas,” she said.

The matter will come to a full meeting of city council Nov. 2.

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