Opinion: Passions flare over parking problems

When I started working at Simon Fraser University a colleague asked if I knew what a university was. “Tell me,” I replied.

“It’s an assembly of people brought together by a common love of learning and a common concern over parking,” he said.

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I thought about this last week when a Vancouver journalist sparked a vigorous debate on Facebook by applauding her gay, childless friend for parking his large van in one of Ikea’s family parking spaces.

It was his way of protesting Ikea’s policy to give preferential parking to families, but not gays or non-traditional family households.

While I thought both parties demonstrated bad judgement, the many online comments highlighted the very passionate feelings we all have about parking. (Except of course for cyclists and pedestrians.)

Our joy at finding time left on a parking meter (somewhat rare since pay-by-phone was introduced) or our anger after receiving a parking ticket are often out of proportion with the amount of money involved.

We know this is irrational, like extreme frustration over slow Internet service or disgust with cyclists who do not respect stop signs.

Some of us get upset when others continually park their cars in front of our houses.

I get upset when cinema parking lots charge for each two hours, knowing full well the commercials, coming attractions, and films will last two hours and fifteen minutes.

I also hate parking at a major downtown hotel that sets it rates not by the hour, or half hour, but in 20 minute tranches. It is their sneaky way to charge a higher hourly rate.

I am also upset with its multi-level parking garage since it only has a pay machine at P1.

If you are parked on levels P2 or P3, you have to make your way back to P1, or fumble with payment at the exit. Occasionally I complain to hotel management, but they claim these are the operator’s decisions. It is not true. While I object to this hotel’s 20 minute tranche, I would be happy if Vancouver parking garages and lots followed the practice in Spain where car parks are obliged to charge by the minute rather than the hour.

That way if you park for an hour and four minutes you do not have to pay for another full or half hour.

Recently Vancouver has been installing very fancy parking meters. While you can use a credit card or pay-by-phone, they are extremely expensive to install and predetermine the size and number of parking spaces.

Why does the city not do what European cities and commercial lots do and install communal ticket dispensers?  Also, why not adjust parking rates for different times of the day or week? It’s foolish to charge $6 an hour on Sunday morning.  Also, why are there parking meters on one side of 1500 Block Alberni, but not the other?

Residential street parking is a major irritant for many Vancouverites. Increasingly we find resident-only parking where we would like to park for a nearby restaurant.

It is not as if residents are paying a lot for these spaces. In most neighbourhoods, a parking permit costs $36.70. In the West End the fee is $73.40. This is not per month.

This is per year.

Meanwhile, nearby apartment garages built at the city’s insistence often have vacant spaces since it’s so much cheaper for tenants to buy a permit and park on the street.

While most of us understand the city’s need to tow cars off busy streets during rush hour, why must it be so outrageously expensive and inconvenient to get a car back?

Why should private parking operators be allowed to charge exorbitant penalties if you are five minutes late? Especially at medical building parking lots where doctors may keep you waiting. Patients don’t need the additional stress.

On Nov. 15 Vancouver will have a municipal election. I suspect many would vote for candidates who care as much about improving city parking practices as improving bicycle lanes.

And if a candidate can convince Impark to treat its customers fairly he or she could win the election.

We are that passionate about parking.

twitter.com/michaelgeller

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