Securing a parking spot has become a little easier for some Edmonton LRT users – but it comes at a cost.
An increase in Edmonton Transit System paid park and ride stalls went into effect Thursday morning and the biggest change will affect commuters who use the popular Century Park lot, located at the southern-most LRT station near 111th Street and 23rd Avenue.
Up until now, most of the 1,300 stalls in the gravel lot were free. On September 1 though, up to 75 per cent of those stall were transformed into paid parking (see maps below.)
A small area is for hourly parking, but the vast majority of stalls will be for those who have purchased a $50 monthly parking pass, which went up from $40 a month.
Only 325 stalls remain free at the southside lot.
More paid parking is also be set aside at the three north Edmonton park and ride lots: Clareview, Belvedere, Stadium. Those lots only have a 50/50 split between paid and free parking though. The paid lots are operated by Impark.
Those on waiting lists were contacted directly about getting parking, but new customers can still apply for a reserved stall.
The city said the monthly parking pass gives users access to the reserved lot on a first-come, first-served basis from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and statutory holidays. After 5 p.m. on evenings and on weekends, the entire lot, including the reserved section, is open to all ETS customers for free use.
Supply not keeping up with demand
While the Clareview, Belvedere and Stadium lots still had room and no wait lists as of Tuesday afternoon, there was a long wait for paid parking stalls at Century Park. About 5,000 people put their names on the list in that lot.
Resident Susie Lee is number 4,759 on that list, and is not impressed with the changes. She says having to take the bus from home will add an extra half hour to her commute each morning and evening.
“As a citizen of the City of Edmonton, I feel I’m not being serviced by the city because the lot fills up quickly and I need to be here by 6:30 in the morning in order to get a spot,” Lee said Tuesday morning at the south side lot.
The parking woes have been ongoing since shortly after the Century Park station opened in 2010 in the rapidly-growing southwest part of the city. The free parking stalls are usually full by 7 a.m. on weekdays.
“It’s a bit frustrating,” said commuter Debbie Fritz. “I’m lucky that I work early in the mornings, but I know if you’re a little bit later — which is the average morning times — it’s extremely hard, even now, to get a spot.”
City administration surveyed about 4,000 LRT users earlier this year to get their input on a possible solution. Administration said results were mixed, with some people asking the lots to remain free to ensure affordable transit. Other people said they were willing to pay more to ensure a worry-free commute.
The city said users did not want to pay more than $50 a month for a parking spot.
The city said with free parking limited, riders are encouraged to contact Impark for a reserved stall, carpool, use bus-only transit centres with free parking, or take the bus for their entire trip. Some residents think getting people to change their habits won’t be that easy.
“I’m not sure where that parking flow is going to go, or where people are going to park,” mused Fritz.
“Maybe, I dunno, they’re going to be pushed into residential areas or commercial areas. I’m curious to know what the solution is to that part of the problem.”
Some parking is still available at LRT Park & Ride locations on a first-come, first-served basis. Additional free parking is available at Meadows, Lewis Farms and Eaux Claires transit centres, along with the Davies Lot.
A city spokesperson said south side residents are being urged to take a bus from their neighbourhoods or to park for free at one of the bus locations instead of coming early to an LRT lot.
Long term goal to improve transit — and change attitudes
Mayor Don Iveson said the ultimate goal is improve transit so people don’t have to drive or park at all. He said right now, there are about 12,000 or 13,000 boardings a day from the Century Park LRT Station.
“The majority of those come from people walking to it or people coming to it by bus,” Iveson said in July when the parking changes were announced. “And yet, because we have this big parking lot there, the visual signal to everybody is that everybody who gets on and off the train is coming by park and ride. Many do, but that’s actually not the main source of traffic.”
Resident Helena Baines has harsh words for city planners, who she says dropped the ball when planning the LRT.
“They should have thought this through better when they brought the LRT down here,” said Baines, who thinks there should be a multi-story parkade on the land. She says after Thursday she probably won’t even bother to try and find parking so she can catch the train – she’ll just drive downtown.
“Even if I could get the $50 to pay for a space here, I’m still not sure that would be worth it because I go downtown. You might as well spend the little bit extra to have the convenience of being in your car.”
Could go from bad to worse for drivers
As frustrating as it may be now, trying to commute from southwest Edmonton could become even more arduous in the coming years. Currently the city is only leasing the Park and Ride lot. It is six years into a 10-year lease.
The city is looking at building another Park and Ride lot south of the Anthony Henday, located at Ellerslie Road and 127th Street. Every seven to eight minutes, shuttle busses would ferry drivers to the Century Park LRT station. The plan is expected to cost about $3 million annually, plus about $10 million for new busses.
When the LRT was extended to south Edmonton the original plan was for Park and Ride lots to be built both at Century Park and at the Southgate LRT station. However, the shopping centre wouldn’t allow the development and the Century Park lot was scrapped because of soaring costs.
A Park and Ride lot will be built when the Valley LRT line opens in the south side of the city connecting Mill Woods to downtown.