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Banff visitor paid parking rates to see another increase

Parking rates in Banff are set to increase by $1an hour

BANFF – Visitor paid parking in Banff will be getting another increase.

Banff council unanimously voted for the off-peak rate to be increased to $5 an hour and the on-peak to be bumped up to $6 – a jump of $1 for each rate.

The price change came after a lengthy debate that saw rates potentially climb to $7 across the board and zig-zag between $6 and $7 in a series of motions and amendments to motions at the Monday (Feb. 12) meeting.

Mayor Corrie DiManno, who made an amending motion for the new rates, said she wanted to be sensitive to price and hit a “sweet spot” that wasn’t too expensive to inhibit visitation but also prioritize the main goal of having people use alternative means of transit in the townsite.

“My intention is we don’t continue to escalate this on a yearly basis,” she said, adding she felt it was a reasonable increase with revenue going to help alternative methods of travelling around the townsite.

“I believe all of those projects and budgets are completely worthwhile all the way from free local transit for residents to three hybrid electric buses, the Mountain Avenue transit lane, e-bike rebates and more frequency on our local and regional Canmore routes. … It’s going to help us continue to enhance and strengthening our sustainable transportation network.”

The changes will come into effect May 1 when on-peak times start and run until Oct. 31.

The amending motion was made after Coun. Hugh Pettigrew amended Coun. Ted Christensen’s motion of having visitor paid parking be $7 year-round for both on- and off-peak times.

Christensen said he felt it was a “reasonable rate” compared to what the City of Calgary and private lots charge as well as factoring in expenses. He noted it would also encourage people to use public transit, park at the intercept lot and find other transit methods.

Pettigrew’s amending motion to Christensen’s original motion kept the on-peak at $7 an hour, but dropped the off-peak to $6 an hour. Though successful, DiManno’s amended motion brought both on- and off-peak down further.

Coun. Grant Canning highlighted with visitor paid parking only coming online in 2021, it hasn’t been long since the model was new and highly contentious in the community. He said having it be $7 an hour was a “dramatic shift in a very short period of time,” and it could drive people away from visiting Banff.

“I’m much more in favour of a smaller incremental approach,” he said.

Visitor paid parking began in Banff in summer 2021 to have people rely less on vehicles to get around the townsite. The push would have visitors use parking spots such as the train station intercept lot and use public transit, cycling and walking to get around.

According to statistics from Town staff, between July and August 2019 and 2023, traffic volume on the Banff Avenue bridge and Mountain Avenue were each down 17 per cent. Local and regional ridership rose by 49 per cent and pedestrian crossings over the Bow River went from 730,000 in 2019 to one million in 2023.

There were also 400,000 Banff residents who utilized fare-free service on Roam routes in the townsite.

More than 1.4 million riders took local Roam transit Banff routes in 2023, with 440,875 on routes 1, 2 and 4 in July and August.

The vehicle congestion threshold for Banff is 24,000 and was hit 60 times in July and August last year. Once the threshold is hit, it can result in back-ups and delays on the Town’s main streets such as Mountain Avenue, Norquay Road, Bear Street and Spray Avenue.

There are roughly 8.3 million vehicles that travel through Banff National Park each year, with an estimated half stopping somewhere in the park.

Despite successes, a report highlighted downtown parking usage remained higher than 97 per cent in July and August and visitor paid parking spots are at 98 per cent usage. When visitor paid parking was introduced, it led to a one per cent drop in usage in 2022, but rose again in 2023 despite the rate being increased by $2 an hour.

“These high occupancy rates contribute to downtown congestion as vehicles circle around to find empty parking stalls,” stated the report.

The 2023 rate increase saw visitor paid parking go from $2 off-peak to $4 an hour and on-peak timing went from $3 to $5 an hour.

The report noted 31 per cent of paid parking transactions are greater than two hours.

Banff council had previously voted to look at a land swap with Parks Canada to create a second intercept lot outside the Town’s boundary for a possible park-and-ride scenario.

However, the possible discussion received a frosty response from Parks Canada due to it impacting wildlife corridors and environmentally sensitive areas. The Town has previously expressed interest in an intercept lot in the Elkwoods area, but Parks Canada has consistently said no due to the rare montane ecosystem.

At 2024 service review, Banff council abandoned the idea, but directed Town staff to look at the possibility of a surface lot at the municipality’s east entrance that would be in the Town’s boundaries.

The Parks Canada-struck expert panel on moving people sustainably in Banff National Park recommended intercept lots and transportation hubs to deal with traffic troubles. Parks Canada has committed to delivering a sustainable strategy for moving people by 2026.

Council also voted at the meeting to have two of the four levels of the Bear Street parkade be converted to visitor paid parking and for Town staff to explore bringing in a commuter pass for people who live outside of Banff, but work in the townsite. Town staff would return with a report no later than May.

Council previously directed Town staff at 2024 service review to return with a report to potentially increase rates.

A comparison in the staff report had Banff parking rates lower than downtown Calgary, Banff Springs Hotel, Vail and Lake Louise, but higher than Jasper, Canmore and Whistler.

Coun. Kaylee Ram highlighted the visitor paid parking system was meant to change behaviour in how people moved around Banff and was in favour of different rates for off- and on-peak due to fewer people visiting in the winter.

She noted Banff and Lake Louise Tourism’s net promoter score – which grades the satisfaction visitors have when travelling to the region – dropped by six points from 2022 to 2023.

“A lot of the issues will continue into 2024 and beyond and that’s primarily congestion, transportation and perception of price and value,” she said. “We know we can’t control the prices as to what people are charging for meals, rooms, etc… This is in our purview to control and I think we should be cognizant of possibly pricing people out from visiting us.”

About the Author: Greg Colgan

Greg is the editor for the Outlook.
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