Halifax regional councillors have reversed a plan to charge fees for street parking on Saturdays.

Council’s budget committee met Tuesday to approve the spending plan it developed over the past few months. The plan was to increase the average residential tax bill by 5.8%, equivalent to $125 annually.

But those figures have now increased, with the average tax bill rising 5.9% or $128.

That’s because the municipality would’ve raised more than $500,000 by charging drivers for parking on Saturdays. The change would’ve come into effect in June in the downtown Halifax, Spring Garden Road, and downtown Dartmouth parking zones. The fee would be $2 per hour from 8am to 6pm.

Councillors voted in February to consider the change, and then voted 9-8 in March to approve it.

During Tuesday’s meeting, councillors heard from a string of downtown business owners and representatives opposed to the change.

‘Not the right time’

Amy Wttewaall is the executive director at Halifax Dance.

“Saturday is our busiest day, full with our youngest students who are brought to class. And their grown-ups, as we like to call them, go spend an hour downtown, whether that’s at Cabin Coffee, the markets, or any of the other great downtown businesses,” Wttewaall said.

“The implementation of paid parking will be an additional burden and barrier on these members, and the staff who attend and teach classes on Saturdays … This is simply not the right time to implement the charging of on-street parking on Saturdays, as local businesses continue to fight to stay afloat.”

Sue Uteck, executive director of the Spring Garden Area Business Association, said members haven’t recovered from the effects of the pandemic.

“This is just another blow to the downtowns that are trying to recover, and I urge you to rethink this and defer this for a year,” Uteck said.

Coun. Pam Lovelace agreed there was a need for “sober second thought” on the issue. She moved to rescind the committee’s earlier vote to approve charging for Saturday parking, and raise the tax rate to make up the revenue.

“I just think that this is the wrong time to do this,” Lovelace said.

Instead of drivers paying, everyone pays

Coun. Shawn Cleary argued HRM is subsidizing private vehicle ownership.

“We’re saying, ‘Well, if we don’t charge the users for the space, we have to charge everyone, regardless if they drive downtown or not, to have people drive downtown and park for free,'” Cleary said.

Many municipalities in Canada do charge for parking on Saturdays. That includes Montreal, Saskatoon, Victoria, and even the Town of Lunenburg.

Coun. Patty Cuttell argued charging for parking would help create more turnover in parking spaces.

“The intent here was never to penalize the small businesses. If anything the intent was always to help with customer turnover and drive more businesses to the downtown,” Cuttell said.

Mayor Mike Savage said the municipality has “gone to extraordinary measures to support downtown,” and he was in favour of Lovelace’s motion.

“When businesses come to us and tell us what they need, I just don’t feel right telling them, ‘No, you’re wrong,'” Savage said.

Lovelace’s motion passed 13-4, with Cleary, Cuttell, and councillors David Hendsbee and Lindell Smith voting no.

Although Tuesday’s changes drive a further increase to the average residential tax bill, the actual tax rate will still fall by more than 4%. That’s because record increases in assessments in HRM this year allow the municipality to bring in more revenue with a lower rate.

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Zane Woodford

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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  1. The employee angle on Saturday parking is interesting. I have often thought that the hospital parking lots should be charge less on weekends as well. It’s actually harder to park around Dal when parking is “free” than when you pay for it. Since they are way more empty on weekends it wound not be a revenue thing….

  2. The average property tax rate of ~2000 a year is significantly less than what you would pay if you buy the very cheapest property for sale today. Why do we subsidize older homeowners with the property tax cap while renters and new owners pay full fare?

  3. “When businesses come to us and tell us what they need, I just don’t feel right telling them, ‘No, you’re wrong,’” Savage said.

    Except empirically, demonstrated again and again, we know that they often ARE wrong. Look at all of the places in downtowns all over the country that use these same arguments when it comes to removing on street parking in favour of bike lanes and active transit and despite all of the doom and gloom, their business isn’t hurt by it. Stays the same or even increases.

    1. There are decades-old scientific publications on the effects of paid parking policies’ good, bad, and ugly varieties. (The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup). If we underprice curbside parking for the time of day and day of the week we promote drivers’ cruising looking for that “free” spot, and not using quickly available paid parking. This is bad for the environment, bad for congestion, bad for the merchants. “Free” can mean the early birds (often employees of nearby businesses) can manage park on the street all day, preventing customers from using those scarce resources. Shoup’s research found that a per-hour price that resulted in 15% of the total spaces on a block being empty maximized the turnover (i.e., new customers/clients/- ), while under-pricing results in very few, difficult-to-find empty spaces, lots of cruising, and lost business. Right-pricing will result in drivers who want/need to stay for longer times would learn to go to a parkade/parking lot.

      But now we leave the pricing up to the City’s politicians (who may see a chance to do a cash grab) and business lobby groups who believe their “guts” that any price higher than “free” is too high and will drive away business. Both are usually wrong about the rational pricing of our city’s curb spaces.

      Are Saturday parking fees right for Halifax’s downtown streets now? I don’t know.
      Research hasn’t been done to determine which streets, which days and hours, and what rates are needed to assure a reliable 15-20supply of available on-street parking spots for short-term visits. The research could be and should be done. The city and the drivers would benefit.