The City of Winnipeg’s parking revenues are on track for a steep pandemic-related drop in 2020 — a year when public health restrictions curbed demand for downtown spaces.
Winnipeg Parking Authority revenues are projected to reach $13.6 million by the end of the calender year, based on numbers up to Oct. 31. That compares to total revenue of $24.9 million in 2019.
The expected $11.3-million year-over-year loss is primarily blamed on the pandemic, though other pricing changes did factor in, according to city spokesman Adam Campbell.
"The public health restrictions that have been implemented in response to COVID-19 have required temporary closures and an increased proportion of staff working remotely from home for many businesses located in areas of the city where paid parking is in effect… Consequently, the city believes that the vast majority of the decrease in parking revenues in 2020 can be attributed to effects of COVID-19," he wrote in an emailed statement.
Campbell noted a pandemic relief measure, which began March 28, offering one hour of free parking at paid on-street spots, also reduced revenues.
That parking revenues face a steep drop is not surprising, after public health officials urged Winnipeggers to stay home as much as possible whenever the number of COVID-19 cases spiked in 2020. The pandemic forced many business to close at times, and many events to be cancelled, leaving Winnipeggers with far fewer driving destinations.
Coun. Jeff Browaty, chairman of council’s innovation and economic development committee, said revenue losses will likely continue well into next year. Browaty noted council recently extended the one hour of free parking until June 30, 2021.
"I think we’re expecting a solid six months of deeply depressed revenues at the parking authority. But hopefully, as vaccines get out there and people return to work, they return to downtown… and we’ll starting seeing a return of those revenues," he said.
Council has also directed the authority not to enforce parking time limits on residential streets, as more Winnipeggers worked from home this year (though streets around the busy Deer Lodge Centre are exempt).
Browaty said he hopes the free parking will make it easier to make short visits to downtown businesses, during times when shopping and dining is an option.
"Even giving away an hour of free parking this summer, it didn’t create a situation where streets were jam-packed with vehicles. To me, that means that giving away that that first hour was the right thing to do from a policy standpoint. Does it hurt our revenue? Of course it does. But if we lose all these businesses downtown, we lose the business taxes and property taxes for all of those important businesses," he said.
Council also approved a 75-cent/hr city-wide decrease in on-street parking rates this year, which was implemented at physical pay stations between July 1 and Sept. 1. That decision came after a parking analysis found previous rates left too many stalls empty during peak periods. Prior to the price cut, parking rates cost $3.50/hr in high-demand and hospital areas and $2.50/hr in lower-demand zones.
A Winnipeg Parking Authority business plan notes the authority will receive a portion of the city’s federal pandemic relief funding. That support, along with surplus funds from previous years and a reduction in parking enforcement costs will allow it to avoid a shortfall and transfer its usual dividend to the city’s general revenues, Campbell said.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.