By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
While it may be hard to measure, and the impact on sales during the Christmas season remain unclear, many businesses in the downtown were pleased with council’s effort to implement a free parking pilot program.
The program, which allowed prospective shoppers to park for free in the city’s downtown between Dec. 11 and 22, was a touchy topic for council, who first voted down the program before flip-flopping a week later and approving a pilot project.
“I do not believe that the initiative resulted in any absolute improvement of business downtown,” states Garth Johns, the executive director of the downtown BIA in a letter to council. “This does not mean to imply that it did not happen (although at least one merchant was particularly excited about the increase in his business) but rather, I cannot offer any absolute measures to suggest, for instance, a 10 per cent increase in sales. There are simply too many other factors at play such as more severe winter weather than we have become accustomed to, general economic conditions etc.”
That aside, Johns notes that the program garnered widespread approval from businesses in the downtown.
“I want to be absolutely clear that there was universal appreciation of the efforts made by council and the positive public relations message that was conveyed,” Johns states. “This was shared with me time and again by both businesses and property owners. In addition, they were hearing this sort of positivity from their patrons and customers as well.”
Moving forward, Johns notes that the city should be looking to give a much earlier notice to residents that the program will be moving forward. Council approved the pilot project at the end of November, allowing only a few short weeks to get the message out.
Johns also says that council’s fear that residents or workers in the downtown would take up the free parking, defeating the purpose of the pilot program, was misplaced.
“My sense is that there was some ‘hogging’ of parking spots but this was quite limited and generally was done more by residents than it was by merchants and their staff,” he states. “In future years, I would ask merchants to let us know when and where this is occurring so we can, in turn, advise bylaw staff.”
With that said, Johns labels the project as a “great success”, and asks for it to be repeated for the coming year.
For Mayor John Henry, he acknowledges that the program did see some success, but admits further notice is required.