City Hall plays curbside catch-up to the rest of Canada

City Hall | by Paul Dechene

Ever notice how photos or paintings of modern cities focus on either buildings or people? It’s odd because if aliens ever came to Earth, their overall impression would be of lines of parked cars and plastic roll-out bins. Our vehicles and waste dominate the urban landscape and yet somehow, us humans are able to filter them out, our eyes always aimed to the side, away from the crud we’re not using at the moment.

Well, take off your blinders, sheeple, because this week’s city-hall update aims squarely at the curb-side.

Downtown Parking, Past Due For An Upgrade

Have you ever been downtown at a parking meter, raging because you haven’t got any change to plug into the thing? “Who even uses coins anymore?” you’ve maybe shouted impotently to the heavens?

Rage no more, downtown motorist, because your Community & Protective Services Committee plans to bring parking into the 21st century.

At their June 14 meeting, the committee reviewed several recommendations on how to modernize downtown parking. The big improvement to emerge from this discussion is pay-by-phone parking.

Here’s how it works: You find a free spot at a meter and instead of rooting around for loonies and toonies, you use an app on your phone to log that you are parking there. The app bills your credit card for a half hour or an hour or whatever. And if, later on, you want to extend your stay at that spot, no problem. You log into the app again and add some time.

The beauty of the system is that all the city needs to purchase is access to software. No new physical infrastructure needs to be installed. City administration estimates the cost to be about $100,000 a year. For that, every single parking meter will be made instantly payable by phone.

If you’re worried it will take the city another three to five years to implement this modern miracle, don’t be. Downtown councillor, Andrew Stevens, passed a motion to have pay-by-phone parking initiated in 2018. To avoid having to wait until the 2019 budget process is complete, cost of the service will be covered by a convenience fee attached to every use of the app. Administration estimates the fee will be in the range of $0.35 per transaction.

“The councillors around the committee table were certainly supportive of making changes, of doing it in a cost-effective way, and of doing it quicker. This is really long overdue,” says Councillor Stevens.

Judith Veresuk, executive director of the Regina Downtown Business Improvement District, says her organization is thrilled to see pay-by-phone parking finally coming to fruition considering it was one of the recommendations from a parking study in 2014.

As for the convenience fee, Veresuk says the RDBID is okay with that. “The fact that the meters are still going to be in place and you can still use coin and not be charged a user fee, I think that’s a great compromise,” she says.

The committee also approved an administration recommendation to use $50,000 from the Downtown Deferred Revenue Account to “hire a transportation and parking consultant to develop a detailed design for on-street parking payment options in the downtown core.”

YAY! We’re paying for another consultant report! I hear if we get doubles on any subject we can trade them to other cities for studies we don’t have yet!

The consultant will be paid to design upgrades for all of downtown’s parking infrastructure through things like pay-and-display ticket kiosks or credit card capable meters. Administration estimates upgrading all downtown parking infrastructure with new technology will cost approximately $1.5 million and have a life span of 10 years — assuming technology shifts don’t render any new tech obsolete sooner.

Not everybody is 100 per cent content with this recommendation.

“We’re still in opposition to that,” says Veresuk. While RDBID is largely supportive of the notion of pay-and-display kiosks, Veresuk suggests it might be worth seeing what the uptake on pay-by-phone is like.

“If we can address the convenience of parking through an app or technology that’s no cost to the city taxpayers — [pay-by-phone] is just a cost to the user — then that’s something that we should as a city should consider,” she says.

She also notes the RDBID’s concern is that while the DDRA money will go towards deciding where to place pay-and-display ticket kiosks downtown, there’s no guarantee that there’ll be funding to pay for the kiosks. And the DDRA is a limited source of cash.

“Technically we could be paying for a study that won’t be implemented,” says Veresuk. “I’d much rather see the cost for the design study come out of general revenue and then if council decides to approve in future years the purchase of these pay-and-display boxes, then let’s look at the DDRA as a potential source for that capital purchase.”

The committee’s parking modernization recommendations go before council for final approval on June 25.

Garbage Fees Mired In Muck

You may remember the city shaved a few dollars off their budget last year by switching to bi-weekly garbage pick-up for a five month period over the winter? Well, the project was so successful, the Public Works & Infrastructure committee approved a recommendation to implement that program every year. If approved by council at their June 25 meeting, the city will in future switch to bi-weekly pick-up from the start of November to the end of March. (Weekly pick-up will be in effect for three weeks over the holiday season. You know, to deal with all the holiday junk.)

This move is expected to save the city $240,000 a year.

A recommendation to change the way you pay for waste disposal, however, was kicked back to administration for more study.

Administration recommended charging a user fee for garbage pick-up while removing the user fee that is currently charged for recycling pick-up.

Overall, the city’s waste-management program would cost the same to operate. How those costs are covered would shift as the program that diverts waste from the landfill (i.e., recycling) would be funded from general revenue (i.e. property taxes), while the program that sends waste to the landfill (i.e., garbage) would be charged a fee you could see.

Residents who can reduce their waste production will have the option of getting smaller roll-out bins for garbage and thereby reduce the user fees they’re charged. The goal would be to incentivize waste reduction by putting the user fee on the service that fills up the landfill the fastest.

Administration expects such a change could reduce spending from the general revenue fund — and thereby the need for property taxes — to the tune of $2.5 million. (This would, of course, be made up in user fees.)

The committee however objected to lack of details of what the user fee structure would be and sent the plan back to administration.

A report on garbage user fees is expected in October, which I guess is all right. As long as we don’t any extraterrestrial visitors drop by before then.