I remember a day, in 2007, I had driven into day lot 2 to go to work or maybe skiing. I hit a giant pothole, and then while I recovered from that, a huge rock flew through the air and broke my windshield. As I searched for parking spot among the haphazardly strewn vehicles (there were no lines painted on those gravel lots in those days) I decided, “someone needs to do something about this.” I was glad to see them pave those lots, and knew that nothing is ever done for free. One could argue that parking is never free, ever. I fully expected them to gate it and charge for parking. I was wrong about the gate, but not about the charging.
When a piece of land is used for parking, then you cannot build on it or use it for anything else. If a developer builds a mall on a piece of property, they can build 10 stores and 10 spots, or they can build 5 stores and 20 spots. Which will yield the best return? Either way, someone is going to pay to build and have those spots, and if the merchants decide not to charge customers to use those spots, then they expect to see them turn over so that more customers can come into their store and spend money. Conversely, a housing developer needs to build so many parking spots per housing unit, as dictated by zoning. Some municipalities give density bonuses to developers to motivate them to build more units (or give other benefit returns to the community). The developer can then realize more profit and the community benefits also. In Whistler, this was done with the Cheakamus development, where only 0.75 parking spaces were required per housing unit. This was deemed okay by the council of the day because they envisioned a great transit system that would render the need for parking moot.
When pay parking in day lots 1-5 was implemented in 2009, it came at a time when the town was in upheaval. The Olympics were coming, everyone was scrambling to get read for the big day. Housing was being challenged for many reasons. Landlords kicking out tenants so that they charge huge rents during the Games. Rainbow and Cheakamus were being built, but not available to move into until after the Games. Lots of people were getting out of Whistler because they didn’t like what was coming. There was a petition circulated to tell council not to bring in pay parking, and Mayor Ken Melamed said council’s job is to listen to the community. He and his council were swept in the 2011 election, credited largely to their roll out of the pay parking. Shortly after, the new Mayor and Council reversed that decision and returned lots 4 and 5 to free. The walk from lot 4/5 became fondly/infamously known as the Melamed traverse.
You see, the problem with having some free parking, and some pay parking, is that it makes you feel cheated if you have to pay. With the free lots full every day by 8am during ski season, people that end up going to pay in lots 1, 2 or 3 and they feel like they’ve been had. I have never once driven into downtown of any city and expected to find free parking. It just doesn’t happen!
I’m not in favor of making it more expensive to drive in Whistler. I recognize that there are people that cannot take transit or ride their bike or walk every where. But if there are days that you can, do. Maybe you take transit when you’re not in a rush to get to an appointment. Or drive if you’ll have lots of stops to make. I am working with the Transit Management Advisory Committee so that we can identify ways to make transit more reliable, more frequent, and hopefully, free.