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When Haley Ha scrolled down her store’s revenue statement in December, she noticed an uptick in the number of people visiting her business.
And many of those customers had been talking about the free metered parking in the downtown area during the holidays, said the owner of HAKI Apparel and Accessories on Great George Street.
“We believe (the free parking) was an important factor in encouraging more people to go shopping downtown,” Ha said.
However, she noted, it could also be the holiday season.
Mayor Philip Brown said the free parking in December was a success in terms of encouraging more Islanders to come to downtown and promoting Love Local Charlottetown, a campaign supporting local businesses.
“Well, it started out and the downtown started to fill up. Lots of cars were coming downtown and lots of people were parking everywhere,” he said.
The province made it clear it would be free for only street surface parking, not for the parkades, he said.
However, there were also lots of people working downtown and they started to use up the spaces.
“It became obvious that employees were using the parking and not keeping it available for potential customers that would come downtown to shop and eat,” Brown said, which led to another issue the city had to address.
People coming downtown couldn’t find a parking space, so they parked in a non-parking zone or in front of a driveway and then received a fine, he said.
“So councillors and myself were getting calls (from customers) to say, ‘I came downtown, couldn’t find a parking space, went around the corner and by the third time I found a spot, I didn’t understand or realize it was a non-parking zone or it was a loading zone, and I was fined. Can you take care of the fine?’
“Also, metered parking is up to two hours, but some were leaving their cars there all day. So, it was counterproductive.”
The purpose of the free parking was to support businesses downtown, not create “a headache” for some small businesses.
Michelle Costante, who works at Timothy’s Café on Great George Street, said the free parking didn’t work as expected because lots of free spaces were taken up by employees in the downtown.
“No, it didn’t help,” Costante said. “Some of our customers couldn’t find a space nearby to park so they have to drive around then walk here.”
Ben Wong, the owner of Green Eatery Vegetarian restaurant on Grafton Street, said not many of his customers were aware of the free parking.
“They didn’t even know about the free parking arrangement until we mentioned it,” Wong said. “I would say the city should have put more advertisements or promotions to make it more efficient, but we appreciated the idea.”
He talked with some downtown business owners and they were excited to see many vehicles coming into the city. But it’s hard to attribute the increase of customers last month to the free parking because it could have related to the holiday season or COVID-19 fatigue that made people want to get out.
Brown said the city is waiting to get the data from its business partners and feedback from the businesses affected by this initiative.
If the city wanted to offer the free parking next year, it would have to work closely with business partners like the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce or Downtown Charlottetown Inc. to look at how to make it work.
He hopes to find out what needs to be done soon to promote Charlottetown as a place to shop, dine, meet people and do business.
“So businesses can attract more people to come downtown,” he said.