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We all pay for pay parking

"It's an inconvenience...For anyone that has a history of coming up to Whistler, it's in the way, it's an intrusion. They have to do something different and inconvenient to the pattern they've had in the past.

"It's an inconvenience...For anyone that has a history of coming up to Whistler, it's in the way, it's an intrusion. They have to do something different and inconvenient to the pattern they've had in the past."

- Jeff Coombs - owner of McCoo's and McCoo's Too

It looks like pay parking is here to stay in the day lots.

I suppose it would have been naïve to think that local government would re-think it and give village businesses a break as well as those who have long used the lots as a place to park their cars while they work.

If Whistler's grape-vine, or should I say gripe-vine, is to be believed there will soon be pay parking in all the paved day lots though there could be a discounted rate for local workers.

One can't help but wonder if that will push even more people to seek out the free parking at Creekside or at the lots on Blackcomb Mountain.

It would be wrong to suggest that pay parking took the resort by surprise. It has long been discussed as part of Whistler's Greenhouse Gas reduction strategy and as part of the long-term transportation plan. But that didn't stop over 1,500 people from signing a petition to stop it in its tracks when it first came up in April 2009.

In the big scheme pay parking was to make people think twice about driving their cars to Whistler; instead they should opt for public transit. Those who stayed in their cars would pay for it and remove the burden from the local taxpayer. It was also hoped that parking fees would stop locals from hogging all the best spots underground at the Conference Centre or close to the ski hills.

Sounds grand.

In fact, some argued Whistler was behind the times as many resorts have introduced pay parking to drive people out of their cars. That might work if you had a transit system that got you from one end of town to the other in a timely fashion. And yes, we were all spoiled during the Olympics when it came to bussing.

"Whistler's Comprehensive Transportation Strategy supports our community's commitment to move towards preferred modes of transportation," said Mayor Ken Melamed last June.

"User pay parking is one way of achieving this and of bridging the cost-revenue gap faced by the municipality. User pay parking is equitable and allows the cost of parking to be paid for by drivers, rather than property taxes, while generating revenue to fund community transit service improvements."

At the same time it was projected that the revenue from the 853 parking spots in Lots 1, 2 and 3 would be $2 million; of that $500,000 was promised for community transit enhancement.

The enhancement was to include:

• An earlier start to "peak season service."

• An earlier start to the proposed Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood service.

• Separate Alpine and Emerald routes on winter evenings to offset some of the new demand generated by the Rainbow neighbourhood and to provide service to Spruce Grove in the evening.

• A highway express bus from Emerald to Function Junction.

• A Bayshores-Upper Nordic Shuttle

• Brio winter only detour

To date the first suggestion is the only one that has been implemented, with the rest under review in partnership with BC Transit. The results of the review should be available late April.

We now know that the pay parking lots have generated half of the projected $2 million and there is not enough money to aid transit to the levels previously envisioned. The money generated is also to be used to fund the upgrading of the Fitzsimmons debris barrier to protect against flooding and to pay for the $4.6 million parking improvements themselves - the lighting, paving and so on - and to create an operating reserve. All part of the deal with the province to get the parking lot lands in the first place. In that same agreement it is stated that the lots are to be focused on providing places for people who are using the mountains.

Parking costs $12 a day in the summer and $8 a day in the winter. It is $5 after 5 p.m.

If Lots 4 and 5 are added to pay parking, as expected, that will add another 1,207 spots.

Meanwhile transit is not getting more user-friendly. It is getting more expensive. And it now costs the same to use the bus here as in Vancouver though our distances are tiny in comparison.

It has been a hard winter what with the global recession and the Olympic hangover.

And while amazing snow helped boost U.S. Presidents' Day numbers and many are looking forward to a busy spring break this month it may be too late for merchants and others to recover from the poor planning around pay parking in Whistler this winter season.

But surely it's not too late to re-visit this. Everyone understands the need for local government to increase its income, but there is also a need for local government to respond to the electorate when a decision is clearly harmful to the heart of Whistler - and it's not just about the shoppers, or the diners. It's about the feeling we all get when we walk the stroll and visitors and locals alike know they are enjoying the soul of the resort.