It’s a question as old as the automobile itself: to meter or not to meter?
The Town of Bracebridge has grappled with the issue many times over the years, and 2016 will be no exception. A working group has been looking at alternatives to the current paid meter system since last fall, and it’s expected they’ll come to council with some recommendations in the near future.
Last year the Downtown Business Improvement Area (BIA) suggested the Town bag the meters for a one year trial run, which prompted council to form the working group. That group includes members of the BIA, Town council and the general public.
“This issue’s been batted around probably going back to the 1960s or 1970s,” says the Town’s chief bylaw officer Scott Stakiw. “It’s been considered by the councils over the years more times than I’m sure I even know about, and it’s always been decided to keep them in.”
Stakiw says the meters were actually installed in Bracebridge during the mid-1940s.
“That’s pretty typical. When the popularity of cars really started to take off you began to get a lot of parking issues. One of the first things people did was put in parking meters,” he says. “They were invented to control a specific type of problem and they’re good at it – probably a lot better than some people would like.”
None the less, the paid meter system has been lambasted by some downtown merchants over the years for driving away customers. They’ve said shoppers would rather take advantage of the free parking in the flats or at the Wal-Mart shopping plaza, or possibly just skip town altogether.
The towns of Huntsville and Gravenhurst both had paid parking meters at one point but ultimately opted to ditch them. Stakiw says he’s consulted heavily with bylaw officers in both of those towns, as well as several other municipalities, regarding the parking issues and their take on it runs the gamut.
“It depends who you talk to. It’s a highly charged and somewhat political issue in many municipalities,” he says. “(When meters are removed) you typically get one of two responses – either it’s not working but we don’t really care because we’re not involved with it any more, or other places have taken them out and discovered that they’ve created a problem. There are cars on the street all day and they can’t get anyone to move so they need to pass time restriction bylaws and hire more staff. No one I’ve ever talked to has said not having any type of control downtown has worked.”
In addition to bagging the meters, other options being considered include the “pay and display” model now used in many municipalities, or new pay-by-phone systems.
“Pay-by-phone is where you can pay for parking with an app. It’s really taking off in a lot of larger areas and it’s something the working group is considering,” says Stakiw.
Stakiw says each model has its pros and cons, but if the Town opts to move away from the paid meters they also need to find a way to cover the $95,000 the meters bring in annually.
The previous BIA board recommended, and received, an increase in the hourly cost of the meters from 75 cents to one dollar, and an extension of the maximum time allowed from two hours to three.
Stakiw, who attends the working group’s meetings but is not a member of the group, says he expects to see recommendations coming to council in April or May.
Regardless of what decision is made, Stakiw says the issue of downtown parking is something he expects will continue to be matter of discussion for years to come.
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