FreeP! A boon, or a bust? You tell us

freepThe Burlington Downtown Business Association and Downtown Parking Committee are seeking your opinions on the December 2015 month of free parking.  The program was known as Free P!

The program was designed, and executed for the past three seasons, with the goal of making our downtown business community more competitive during the prime shopping and dining season before Christmas.

To measure the effectiveness of the program we would like to get your feedback.

Please take a few minutes to reflect on how the month of free parking in all public spaces downtown (on-street and in the surface lots/parking garage) was received by your business, your customers and yourself.

Thanks in advance for your participation:

SURVEY DEADLINE: March 31st, 2016

Written by Marianne Meed Ward

A Better Burlington began in 2006 after my neighbours said they felt left out of city decisions, learning about them only after they’d been made.

As journalist for 22 years, I thought “I can do something about that” and a website and newsletter were born. They’ve taken various forms and names over the years, but the intent remains: To let you know what’s happening at City Hall before decisions are made, so you can influence outcomes for A Better Burlington.

The best decisions are made when elected representatives tap the wisdom of our community members, and welcome many different perspectives.This site allows residents to comment and debate with each other; our Commenting Guidelines established in 2016 aim to keep debate respectful.

Got an idea or comment you want to share privately? Please, get in touch:


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  1. I agree that we should not complicate the matter. This is not rocket science where we need lots of data. The devil is in details.

    It’s a political decision whether the downtown is supported at Christmas or not.

    Some here forget that it was the malls and the free parking that was largely responsible for killing down-towns all over. Free parking, lots of stores.

    Same thing can be said for downtown. At Christmas, parking free everywhere, park anywhere, lots of stores, walk the variety.

    Variable parking rates dependent on location is not something for Christmas. How does anyone know where the cheap or free spots are, and if they are available? It’s just another hassle to visiting downtown.

    Again, the costs is minimal at the margin for the extra days and times that are not already free. Let’s not make it worse spending staff time, and arguing about it.

    • It can actually be quite simple – the city already has variable pricing to some extent. For example, prime parking spaces at Spencer Smith Park are not free. We also charge different rates in the lots based on distance from the core – closer lots are more expensive. Maybe the answer is just as simple as making on-street parking paid and parking in the garage and more distant lots is free.

      Ultimately it’s not the parking that makes a shopping area successful or competitive. It’s the total experience. Parking is just one part of it. Both the cost and the convenience are important. Supply and demand means that if something has a lower cost, people will be more likely to use it for longer periods of time – which makes it less convenient for everyone else.

      If we’re in the mood to giving out Christmas gifts, that is great. However we should also consider being as generous with those who do not come Downtown by car. This just adds greater incentive for downtown to be clogged with cars, and takes away from the experience that we are trying to create. It may seem like a small issue, but it’s a very visible symbol of how Burlington says it wants to be walkable and transit-friendly on one hand, but when it comes time to allocate the money we do everything we can to hinder us from actually achieving that goal.

  2. I think there’s a take away that isn’t just financial. Not everything is dollars and cents, the month of free parking is a very friendly, feel-good benefit of living or visiting Burlington downtown. We pay for everything in life these days and a token free thing is welcome relief during one of the most expensive times of year. Can the average person afford to pay for parking? Of course but December free parking makes me love this city a little more and it’s something to sorta brag about. It’s not often you get a perk from the city – this is a nice charitable thing done over the holidays and I would encourage it to continue.

  3. We should look at the data. Did it attract more visitors to downtown? Were those who drove downtown actually able to find a parking spot near their destination? Were the free spots mostly used by downtown employees and residents who would have been there anyway? (Note that the survey doesn’t help to answer any of these questions.)

    My take: Free parking doesn’t affect my decision to go downtown. I visit downtown several times a week. Sometimes I drive. Sometimes I ride my bike. Sometimes parking is free, sometimes it isn’t. The cost of parking is not a factor for me. But if the data shows the program is working to attract more visitors who wouldn’t otherwise come downtown, we should keep it…

  4. I’m wondering how productive it is. If the parking spaces otherwise would not have been utilized than having “free” parking isn’t hurting anything. But a lot of the spaces end up going to the downtown employees who would have paid for the parking anyhow. This means that the city has to come up with the revenue elsewhere.

    In December (at least a normal December when highs are not 15 degrees) people are less apt to be walking or biking downtown. So there may be some, but not much increase in car traffic & congestion as a result. Still, it sends the message that we are willing to subsidize drivers, but not so much for others.

    The most demanded spots, such as on Brant St. will be full all the time, which means more people driving around looking for a spot. If we price according to demand so that someone who is willing to pay for a spot can get one, ultimately we will all be better served, Would you rather pay a few bucks for a very convenient parking spot outside the door of the restaurant or shop you’re going to, or walk 5 minutes from a far away parking spot that is free? I think being able to choose makes Downtown a better destination. You can’t get that at the mall (unless they have valet parking?). Maybe this means we should continue to charge market rates for the spaces that are in high demand (e.g. on-street) while making parking in the garage free.

    • Chris, the parking spaces in the garage that are used by city employees until recently have been free for those employees. I believe that now they are charged as a taxable benefit to those who were formerly provided free parking, as it should be. Let’s not over-complicate things. The objective is to encourage people to visit our downtown area. As always, the idea is to make it easier for tfhe customer to do business. There are a lot of people living north of the QEW who have no idea what the downtown district has two offer. Let’s try to encourage them to come south. Charging based on desirable location would only discourage people form shopping dowtown. besides, people are already charged selectively as the first 20 minutes in parking lots are free.

      • Hi, Ian. I live north of the QEW and I understand that city employees are not the only people who work downtown, although the city is the largest employer.

        Is it really “easier” for people to do business when all the best parking spots are always full? Going to the mall in December is always a nightmare, because it’s so hard to find a parking spot, and then once you do you have to traverse a sea of hostile drivers in a rush just to get to the door. I would gladly pay 20 bucks to avoid that hassle. And all I can buy there is the same overpriced junk from China that is offered in the same big chains you find in any other mall. If we really want to encourage people to visit downtown, having efficient turnover so that it is easy to find a good spot – creating a better experience would be helpful. That means there have to be 1 or 2 spaces available all the time. If it’s so easy for the store proprietor to park there at no cost, the spot will not be available for customers – even if they were willing to pay they would not be able to. There’s no incentive for anyone to park in the garage and walk, so fewer people will do so, and you get the situation I described where the prime spots are never available.

        It’s really not that hard – many other cities (e.g. San Francisco) have figured out how to vary pricing for parking based on demand. We have a lot of intelligent people in Burlington who can figure it out.

  5. I liked it. I remember mentioning it to you and Mayor Rick a few years ago after I had seen it done in Belleville. Hopefully it will help to keep the downtown a going concern as the parking problems in Oakville have caused many businesses on Lakeshore to close.

  6. Looks like a no-brainer to me to provide free parking for shoppers going downtown at Christmas. The cost is a fraction of the measurement error in the $140 million plus operating budget. It won’t be noticed.

  7. Oh yeah, hey free parking, lets get people downtown to support the local merchants. Hey >*councilors*< you know the ones who voted down reduced transit fares for seniors hey, THAT would have gotten some of us downtown to support the merchants,

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