an account from one Whistler Councillor

Parking and the transit model in Whistler

I worked in the Village for the first 4 years living here. Over that time, I was a regular Alpine bus rider, then a walker from Nesters, and finally a driver/carpooler from Pemberton (for 18 months). During this time, if I parked in the Day Skier Lots, I remember being disappointed on many occasions. Before the lots were paved, there were frequently cars parked at odd angles, huge snow banks that never really allowed enough room to park, and often damaged vehicles from gravel and rocks. Before there was pay parking, on busy days, Lots 1 and 2 would be nearly full by 9 AM. It was a pretty safe bet that most of the cars up front were the early rising village staff that snagged those awesome spots. This meant that the average “Day Skier” would have to park far away in lot 4 or 5 and walk with their equipment. This seemed selfish to me, that we would expect the visitors to park farther away than staff that were likely parked for the entire day.

Once the lots were paved, there was no question to me that we’d have to find a way to pay for it. The “collective WE” would either have to pay for it in our taxes or fork it out of our wallets on a pay-for-use basis. It makes sense that there should be a pay-for-use system, if we wish to promote alternative methods of transportation. The first mistake was made when the Day Skier Lots closed to be paved, and the same day, the parking at the Conference Centre became pay-parking. Not wise timing, if you want buy in from your stakeholders. The second mistake was when pay parking was rolled out in Lots 1, 2, and 3 at a rate that didn’t make sense, while leaving 4 and 5 free. Granted, 4 and 5 were not paved, and so the perceived value was not in line. What did that do? It made Lots 4 and 5 packed, and left Lots 1, 2, and 3 lonely and empty. This sent a resounding message to visitors and locals: Don’t be silly and pay for parking! Lots 1, 2, and 3 are a rip-off. This sent undertones of “the village is too expensive”, and “closed for business.” Think of the last time you drove up to a business and there were no cars parked out front. Your first instinct was probably, “Are they even open??”

If a Whistlerite needs to get to work (from further than walking distance), they have the choice to pay for the bus, or they can drive their car. If they’ve paid for it in taxes to cover the cost of the parking lots, then why would they be inclined to ALSO pay for the bus fare? Alternatively, if they have to pay for parking, and the bus is more economical, would it be more rational to leave the car at home? Of course, the bus MUST be the better choice, in it’s service, reliability, and benefit to the environment. But it’s up to Council to ensure that it IS the better choice!!! Whistler has a great selection of Hydrogen buses. Are they going where they’re needed? Are they sticking to a schedule that makes sense for the people using it? As I speak with various groups around town, there is a general dissatisfaction with the reliability and service times of the bus system. We need to bring that in line so that it gets used!

The new user-pay model for the Day Lots (announced at September 20, 2011 Council meeting) has some veritable merits. The basic premise is this: Beginning November 1, 2011, Lots 4 and 5 will be user-pay with a monthly and bi-monthly pass option. Further, the hourly and daily rates are $2 and $8 respectively. This is a much simpler model than the current one, and will generally not deter guests (as was found in a survey conducted by the RMOW.) My concerns with this model are:

  1. How will this influence Carpoolers to use the Day Lots? If the pass is attached to one’s license plate, then multiple passes would need to be purchased by the Carpool members. We need to find a solution/incentive for Carpool users. I would suggest a lower pass rate for these users, or a transferable pass product.
  2. If we know that the current model will “create a revenue shortfall” as stated in the minutes, we need to look at ways of making this up immediately. Until I have more information about the budget, I do not have an immediate suggestion of where this money will come from.
  3. There needs to be elasticity in the pricing structure over the coming year to ensure maximum usage of the Lots. I’d recommend a quarterly assessment of lot usage with the Parking Steering Committee.

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