It’s been less than two years since Penticton introduced paid street parking downtown, and there might be change in the air after complaints from local businesses and a new councillor planning a motion at the next meeting.
Ryan Oickle, a co-owner of Gratify Foods in the 500 block of Main Street, posted his frustrations on Facebook Tuesday, stirring up a flurry of support. As a local business operator, he is fed up with the parking situation keeping away customers.
“In the wintertime, going to these corners to find and pay for parking, just so you can get a coffee just doesn't work. So businesses like ours, just won't be around on Main Street, if we have to weather the storm of this recession, on top of something that the city's heard countless feedback about," Oickle told Castanet Wednesday.
Oickle hears feedback from customers that pay parking discourages more clients from visiting Main Street than any other cited reason.
“The path of least resistance is pushing people to different places, buying from different stores, and to have pay parking all the way down this road is just not working for a lot of people. So that's why I made my post I guess.”
The challenging situation was emphasized by the winter season, as Penticton sees fewer tourists and relies on local customers to keep businesses running.
“We have such a diverse clientele but we're losing a lot of seniors, we're just losing a lot of people who just aren't [able to come].”
Downtown Penticton Business Improvement Association (DPBIA) executive director Brett Turner has heard the same frustrations.
“Over the last few years since paid parking inception, we have received overwhelming feedback against paid parking. We have to field calls daily, and weekly. We hear from upset business owners, tourists, locals, everybody, you can think of contacts us regularly, with negative comments about the parking,” he said.
Complaints about the parking stretch from the timing — having it roll out in the middle of COVID when businesses were trying to recover — to the execution of it with a poor placement of the meters and the lack of clarity around how to use them and the signage.
The pay parking model also hits particularly hard with seniors.
“We've even sat down with seniors who have said that they feel discriminated against. Because if they pull up in front of Vitamin King, and they want to just run and get some vitamins, they need to walk, in some cases, almost a whole city block away, just to pay for parking to come back and go get their item,” Turner said.
This issue reached new city councillor Ryan Graham, who told Castanet he will be introducing a motion at next week’s meeting to put a pause on the paid street parking system downtown.
“For many years, parking meters have been a contentious issue between property owners and business owners. We, as a council, mayor and city, need to give all the tools for success, more than ever with inflation and shortage of staff,” he said.
“I think parking meters have become an issue where they are really deterring people from coming down to support our amazing downtown local businesses.”
“So on December 6, I'm bringing a motion forward to my council and mayor that I'm looking for support to put a pause on parking meters, from December 8, until the end of February. I think it is a window of reprieve that we can show our community we're hearing you, we're understanding the frustration and my biggest job as an elected official is to bridge that gap.”
Mayor Julius Bloomfield, who was a councillor last term and voted in favour of the paid street parking expansion back in 2020, said there is a balance to be found for the situation.
“There are businesses downtown that want city services, they want the city to focus on downtown, projects [and] revitalization. They want the city to be aware of the economy of small businesses in the downtown, and the effects the paid parking has on their economy,” he said.
“I'd like to see what the council wants to do. I'm a spokesperson for council and so I'm just one of seven, and I think it's a council decision as to what happens with the parking in the downtown area.”
Bloomfield said he thinks this council is committed to listening to what residents want.
“Not to say that the old council didn't. We brought in a plan of paid parking to compensate for the loss of revenues elsewhere in the city during the pandemic. We had, basically, to compensate for the loss of income from, say, things like the casino, which was a major hit during the pandemic. And now, the pandemic is over and we've got to see how that's going to play out,” he added. “I think the council did what it had to do.”
“I'm looking forward to bringing this forward. Ultimately, I want our community and our business community to understand that we are hearing you and we're here to support you,” Graham said.
While all agree that paid parking in a city downtown is not unheard of, Oickle thinks it's time to revisit Penticton's paid parking situation and put it back to vote.
"The price of everything has gone up and that's something that the City of Penticton doesn't have any control of. There are all sorts of things going on worldwide that are affecting that," Oickle said, but the city could help a small business out by making it easier for customers to shop there.
“I just don't think it's necessary for a city this size. When you're dealing with a larger city where the volume of people can make up for the discrepancy of the people who don't want to pay for parking or parallel park."
“We're excited to see some movement on it and, hopefully, we can get to a place where we can get it sorted out and get back to business,” Turner added.