In the world of business and politics, some actions are almost impossible to comprehend.
Such is the case in downtown Burlington, which has been struggling to attract customers ever since the Burlington Mall opened in 1968 and subsequently Mapleview Mall in 1990.
Merchants who belong to the Business Improvement Area always have encouraged city council to allow free parking as an incentive to attracting shoppers.
Well, four years ago the City endorsed free three-hour parking for the month of December. Now it has been discovered some employees who work downtown have been parking their own cars in free spaces on Brant St. or in public lots closer to their place of employment than where their longterm parking places are located. The parking intended for retail employees requires them to walk a couple of blocks to their workplace.
Brian Dean, general manager of the Burlington Downtown BIA, said before the City installed pay-by-licence plate technology in 2016 it was practically impossible to determine who owned cars parked in public spaces.
However, now that can be done and, in future, if employees are parking in the wrong lot they will receive a warning. If they continue to do it, they will lose their privileges of longterm parking.
No fines will be levied, Dean said, because technically it is not an infraction of the law. It’s just plain common sense not to do it.
In addition, two large surface lots downtown – one on Brant St. and the other on Elizabeth St. – will be closed between 7 and 9 a.m. so that employees arriving for work early cannot park there.
“I hope this will stem potential abuses from people coming downtown for their jobs,” he said. “We are doing everything we can to make sure free parking is for customers.”
Both Dean and Marianne Meed-Ward, councillor for the downtown area, said they have rarely seen the City parking garage on Locust St. full. And it’s only one block away from Brant St.
The lot has a well-lit sign outside indicating how many of its 380 parking spaces are still available.
Dean, who also is chair of the downtown parking advisory committee to city council, said it seems to him people will park long walking distances away from the doors to Mapleview Mall during peak shopping season, but when they come downtown they want to be right in front of the place they are going to.
He said it might be that they are afraid of having their car stolen, but statistics show that more vehicles are stolen from mall parking lots than from downtown.
Meed Ward said 88 per cent of 600 people she surveyed indicated they want free parking to continue in the downtown this December. Half of those who responded, she said, neither work nor live in the downtown area.
Lack of visitor parking at high-rise residential buildings downtown also is a serious problem, she said.
“The building at 360 Pearl St. has none,” she said. “”I heard of someone having to lug an oxygen tank from a few blocks away.”
Meed Ward said the builders were required to provide a certain number of parking spots, but there was no stipulation about any of them being for visitors. So they were all leased out to residents of the building.
“If developers don’t provide visitor spaces, in effect, the community is subsidizing them because visitors will then use public spots.”
Meed Ward said she will push for new legislation forcing developers to preserve some visitor parking spaces in perpetuity.
Disha Beniwal, manager of the Bank of Montreal branch on Brant St. just north of Caroline, said the decision to allow employees to double-park in the branch’s tiny private lot was made by head office.
“I have to go by their guidelines,” she said.
The City has a paid parking lot right behind the building. The Bank of Montreal reported a third-quarter profit of $1.4 billion this year, so it’s a good bet picking up the tab for employees’ parking would not be a hardship.
Beniwal said the bank has had a problem with people coming downtown to go to bars and restaurants thinking they can park in the branch lot. But since some of these cars have been towed away the situation has improved, she said.
At 5 p.m. on Fridays the lot sometimes resembles a bumper car ride at an amusement park and there have been a couple of fender benders.
There are more than 1,500 municipally-owned parking spaces in downtown Burlington. The City’s Defined Parking Area for the downtown stretches from Lake Ontario north to Baldwin St., and east to west from Martha St. to just beyond Locust.