At nearly 30%, could parking taxes drive business out of downtown Vancouver?

The provincial tax on parking is climbing to 24 per cent to help pay for new transit infrastructure. Rebecca Lau/ Global News

Downtown Vancouver businesses are expressing concern about a plan to hike parking lot taxes, making them among the highest in North America.

The tax hike is one piece of of a deal reached between Metro Vancouver’s mayors and the province as to how the region will pay for its share of big-ticket transit projects including the Broadway subway and Surrey light rail.

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Tax on off-street parking was originally seven per cent PST, but was put under the control of TransLink in 1999 to fund transit. The agency increased it by 14 per cent in 2010 to the current 21 per cent.

Under the deal, it will now climb a further three per cent; with GST added in, that brings parking taxes to 29 per cent.

That has the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association (DTVBIA) worried that customers could decide parking downtown is simply too expensive to visit.

“What we’re sensitive to is whether it’s going to impact people’s discretionary visits to downtown,” DTVBIA president and CEO Charles Gauthier told CKNW’s The Lynda Steele Show.

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“Not those people that come to work each and every day and they have to pick a mode of transportation to get here, but it’s those people who have choices in terms of where they go and shop and go for entertainment and dining.”

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Gauthier said according to a recently-commissioned DTVBIA survey, four out of 10 people said the cost of parking does impact their choice of whether to go downtown or not.

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Gauthier also expressed some concern about the province changing legislation that will allow the tax to climb.

“We were under the impression that it was capped at 21 per cent,” he said. “We’re concerned about how often would this occur.”

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However, while Gauthier said businesses will be watching closely to see if the number of visits declines, he said the DTVBIA isn’t necessarily opposed to the tax — and won’t fight it the way it did with a 2011 campaign called “drive out the tax.”

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“We understand that they have to fund transit, and certainly every mode of transportation needs to be paying that and we haven’t had an increase since 2010. So we’re going to put that in perspective,” he said.

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He added that on the positive side, there have been significant improvements in SkyTrain, Canada Line and night bus service to the downtown core, which has made it easier for people to access without a car.

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