It's been nearly a year since Portage la Prairie implemented its downtown parking strategy where the antiquated parking meter infrastructure was replaced with free, time-monitored parking.

The city's Public Safety Committee provided council with an update on the successes and shortcomings of the parking plan at this week's regular meeting. In early 2020, phase one of the plan was implemented with hopes of having fee-based parking options established, along with electronic monitoring in order to reduce enforcement costs. In November of last year, the parking strategy came into full effect and was accompanied by a communication campaign intended to inform residents of the changes.

"The autoChalk parking enforcement system provided mailed out warnings to users for several weeks before formally issuing tickets, providing an opportunity for users to become aware of the new parking strategy," says Portage city councillor Sharilyn Knox. "In the five months since implementing the new system, many of the primary goals of the strategy have been achieved. Residents have provided feedback that the removal of the parking meters and the two-hour time limit have made it much easier for them to support local merchants without worrying about change or tickets."

The Public Safety Committee notes the use of the autoChalk technology has been beneficial as it has reduced the cost of the city's bylaw service contract. This has freed up resources elsewhere, such as the enforcement need surrounding derelict properties. Additionally, surface parking lot revenue was higher than anticipated in 2020 as it brought in nearly $25,000 - this is in large part due to the popularity of the annual parking pass option. The 2020 year also saw the city collect approximately $25,000 in ticket revenue.

"Despite the overall success of the parking strategy, there are remaining challenges that administration will need to overcome in 2021," notes Knox. "While the last five months of enforcement have been successful, traffic flow is believed to be low in the downtown corridor due to the impacts of COVID-19. If larger vehicle traffic volumes return later in 2021, we will have to monitor the effectiveness of our enforcement of on street-based parking and possible congestion on surface parking lots."

Knox adds that an ongoing issue brought about by the changes in parking is the public's understanding of time-limited parking restrictions for street-based and surface lots. The bylaw states once the free two-hour street parking time limit has expired, a vehicle must be moved at least one city block face to avoid being ticketed. A city block face is defined as the parking area on one side of a street bordered by an intersection at each end.

"This is to prevent someone simply moving their car around a parking lot, or advancing their vehicle minimally down the block to avoid moving their car," notes Knox. "This bylaw provision was replicated from other municipalities who used the autoChalk system to prevent abuse of street-based and surface-based parking restrictions."

This restriction will not impact the majority of vehicle parking, however, Knox notes that there are residents that may be caught by the system who are parked in the same block face twice within this time period.

"This has caused frustration for some who are issued tickets in this situation," she says. "While our initial communication campaign did stress this parking restriction rule, this information needs to be shared in a continuous information campaign, especially as restriction related to COVID-19 begin to lift."

Administration will continue with downtown stakeholders and residents to effectively communicate parking rules for the downtown corridor and monitor the results of the parking strategy. Council will receive another report regarding the parking strategy in November of this year, marking the one year anniversary of the implementation of phase two.