City approves pre-paid parking meters

Change intended to curb drinking and driving

Changes to the way parking meters operate in the city will make it easier for partying Vancouverites to leave their vehicles overnight without having to set their alarms or risk being ticketed or towed.

The city approved the change Dec. 18. Previously, drivers could only pay for same-day parking between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. The change in technology will allow drivers to front load parking meters the night before. The city has not set a date for the implementation of the new policy.

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Charles Gauthier, president and chief executive officer of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, said the new system will not only benefit drivers wishing to imbibe but also anyone attending an early morning meeting that begins prior to 9 a.m. when the city’s meters kick in.

“If someone’s at an early meeting they have to step out at 9 [a.m.] to feed the meter or dial in by phone,” said Gauthier. “There are a lot of other applications this can be used for besides having too much to drink.”

Vision Vancouver Coun. Raymond Louie brought forward a motion asking for the change in response to an initiative proposed by University of B.C. economics students Leighton Hay and Curtis Kuznecov, who looked to Seattle for inspiration. The Washington State city introduced its pre-paid parking plan in 2011 in an attempt to curb drinking and driving. In 2013, the number of drivers who took advantage of the option averaged 2,500 a month.

Louie said that number reflects just how well the program is working in Seattle. He added when he first read the letter from Hay and Kuznecov he was impressed with their research. “Then we spoke to the police chief, engineering, the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, [Mothers Against Drunk Driving] and ICBC,” said Louie, who hopes the change will make it easier for drivers to make the right choice when deciding between heading home by transit or taking the risk of driving after one too many.

“The goal is to reduce accidents and fatalities,” said Louie.

Kuznecov said he and Hay were challenged by one of their economics professors to come up with an idea to change public policy using microeconomics. Their inspiration came from a visit to Seattle two years ago to attend a Seahawks football games. Kuznecov said parking at their hotel was $45 a night, but the students discovered they could leave their vehicle at a nearby meter and pre-pay for parking for two hours the next morning at a fraction of the cost. Because Seattle uses pay stations rather than meters, drivers planning to enjoy several drinks can purchase what’s known as a “liquor sticker” to place in their vehicle’s window. Liquor stickers are good from 8 to 10 a.m.

“We’re young guys and we like to go out to watch Canucks games and we always see people who’ve had three or four drinks get up and leave and drive home,” said Kuznecov. “They’re not drunk, they’re just on the margin. We hope this will convince all of those people just on the margin that’s it’s worth it to leave their car.”

As economics students, Kuznecov and Hay also theorize the new parking regulations will allow people who would normally leave a bar or restaurant after one drink to relax, enjoy themselves and spend more money.
“There is also an expected cost benefit,” said Kuznecov.

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