Push to delay paid parking in Westboro, Wellington West fails

An attempt to spare Westboro and Wellington West from paid parking until they have train service failed at committee Thursday, as Ottawa city councillors called it unfair to give just two neighbourhoods a break.

City staff conducted a study that showed high parking demand along Richmond Road and Wellington Street W., leaving frustrated drivers searching for spaces. The problem is only increasing as insufficient visitor parking at new buildings pushes more cars onto the street.

"At the busiest times, we're seeing a situation where there is a lack of available parking," said Scott Caldwell, Ottawa's manager of parking services.

"We don't want parking to be jammed. We want to ensure that on average you have one or two spaces per block, or two blocks, so that the next person coming into the area can find parking."

He told councillors that pricing those spaces at $3 an hour could drive turnover and open up spaces.

Elsbeth Vaino, vice-chair of the Wellington West Business Improvement District, said paid parking is currently the hottest topic of debate in the neighbourhood.

"No one in our area wants it," she said. "We've heard from zero members who are for it. We've heard from many, many that are opposed."

Free parking a 'competitive advantage'

Vaino said businesses in the area are struggling, and paid parking might drive more customers to the spacious and free parking lots of the suburbs.

Above all, she worried about retail staff who don't have reliable transit options to get to work on time without a car.

Red markers indicate where paid parking would come to Richmond Road and Wellington Street West if the plan passes at council next month. Orange markers show where there is already paid parking.
Red marks indicate where paid parking would come to Richmond Road and Wellington Street W. if the plan passes at council next month. Orange markers show where there is already paid parking. (City of Ottawa)

But Caldwell said parking demand — and the resultant problems — is actually worse in the study area than on streets that already have paid parking.

Somerset Coun. Ariel Troster said she doesn't know how to answer when businesses in Chinatown, just to the east, ask: "Why does Wellington West have free parking and we don't?"

Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Sean Devine had the same worry.

"For any other business in any other area, where their customers and staff do have to pay for parking, they would see what you are looking for as a competitive advantage," he told Vaino.

Push for 'grand bargain' fails

Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper, whose ward includes Wellington West and much of Westboro, proposed a motion to delay paid parking until the LRT west extension gives shoppers and workers a reliable alternative.

"Trying to get to work in Westboro could involve taking a bus to a bus to a bus," he said

He called the delay a "grand bargain" the city could strike with residents.

"We're going to put paid parking in," he said. "It's going to be more difficult for staff to find parking within the neighbourhood to work at the shops and the restaurants. But we're going to give them a train. That train is almost here."

Leiper's motion failed by a vote of eight to three.

After the defeat, Leiper told reporters he wasn't surprised by the vote at committee.

"You heard the, call it resentment, or the recognition of the inequity between a very vibrant shopping area in Hintonburg and Wellington West and Westboro that doesn't have paid parking today, versus those neighbourhoods that do have paid parking," he said.

"I think it would be difficult for many councillors to suggest that Wellington West and Westboro should be treated differently than other parts of town."

But even without the delay, Leiper said he will be voting for paid parking when it comes to council for a final vote. He said businesses are likely overestimating the damage it will do. As towers go up, there will be more and more customers moving into the area who can walk to those stores.

Jeff Leiper, councillor for Kitchissippi, photographed at a transit committee meeting on June 29, 2023.
Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper is seen during a transit committee meeting on June 29, 2023. (Jean Delisle/CBC News)

"I am not as cynical as some of the businesses may be expressing today that this is going to result in a devastation of our commercial area," he said.

Leiper rejected the argument that parking is free in the suburbs, since property owners tend to pass the cost on to their retail tenants, who in turn charge their customers higher prices.

"There is no such thing as free parking," he said.

If full council approves the plan, the earliest paid parking would arrive in Westboro and Wellington West would be the second quarter of 2025.

Parking rates to change elsewhere this August

On-street parking rates are also set to change across the city if council passes the committee's recommendation for a new demand-based pricing system.

Staff will review parking demand twice a year. They'll aim to keep parking occupancy at between 50 and 85 per cent of all spaces, a range Caldwell called the "sweet spot."

If it drops below that rate during two consecutive periods, they'll decrease the cost of parking. If it rises higher, they'll hike the rates.

"As long as we're within that target zone, that 50 to 85 per cent, we'll keep rates where they are," Caldwell said. "But if it's too high, so above that 85 per cent zone, that's indicative that there needs to be more turnover — there needs to be a market answer to that."

Adjustments are already planned for 11 of the city's 20 parking zones. In August, rates in six zones will go up by 50 cents, and drop by 50 cents in four zones. In one, prices will rise by a dollar.