Car Free Day organizers say rising security costs threaten event's future

Organizer says if the VPD bill continues to increase, the future of the festival may be in jeopardy.

One of the organizers of Car Free Day Vancouver says escalating security costs could threaten the future of the popular event.

This year has already seen the cancellation of Pride’s Davie Street Block Party and the Canada Day Parade. And while Car Free Days will go ahead across the city June 16, 17 and July 8, festival director Matthew Carrico says the multi-day festival could be next on the chopping block if security fees continue to rise.

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“When we look at our budgets, the money we spend on police and city fees comes out of the pockets of the people who are performing and putting on the events,” says Carrico. “We’ve probably lost a lot of great events because of these costs.”

The registered non-profit Car Free Vancouver Society runs the event, but aren't aware of the amount the Vancouver Police Department will charge for their services until after the fact.

"This means we don't know how much is going to be left over to pay local artists and people working on the festival. From my perspective, that's an injustice," Caricco writes in a follow up email. 

After consulting on a June 5th panel for the Creative City Strategy, other arts and culture organizers expressed concern over the costs of security at events. 

In 2017, Carrico says the volunteer-run event — which temporarily closes down heavy traffic areas on Main Street, Commercial Drive and Denman Street to host public pedestrian festivities — had to pay $58,000 to the City of Vancouver, $41,000 went to covering the costs of Vancouver Police Department services.

Thats almost 40 per cent more than what Car Free Day organizers had to pay in 2016.

Traffic authority personnel are stationed at every main intersection of the festival and cost $350 per day. Because there are often more events going on in the city than traffic cops, VPD officers used to stand in and cover the difference of their $1,000 daily fee.They stopped subsidizing their fee in 2016 without consultation or mention ot organizers. 

"A lot of events were flabbergasted by the increase, so the special events officer rolled back some of that and the city ate some of the cost," says Caricco.

In 2016, organizers only had to pay $25,000 of the $37,5000 VPD police bill because of the policy change, which is $1,000 more than they paid for the previous years festival. 

“But in 2018, who knows?” Caricco says of the 14th annual event. “We don’t have an idea of the costs until after the fact because it depends on the VPD’s estimations of threat and security needs.”

Carrico acknowledges that organizers need help when it comes to security. “[But] splitting these costs more equitably has been on our minds for a while, as a society, but there’s an extra push right now because we are losing events.”

Stephanie McLellan, the City of Vancouver’s film and special events co-ordinator, told the Courier that it’s not necessarily true organizers are footing the entire bill for security costs.

While she declined to provide further information, according the Car Free Day’s website, the project is made possible by the Government of Canada and attracts more than 400,000 attendees each year.

The VPD also declined to comment on this issue, including questions regarding whether officers are being paid for regular or overtime duties. 

“I would be sad to see a good event, that maybe has a big economic impact on an area and culturally enhances the city, go over a relatively small amount of money,” says Carrico.

“I’m hoping we can figure out a way with the city to operate a little bit differently before the rate of growth outstrips the events ability to pay.”

For more information on Car Free Day events, go to carfreevancouver.org.

bclarkson@vancourier.com

@bexinVcity

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