'We're a shopping centre, not a commuter parking lot'
Generally considered a boon for business because it brings customers to retailers, some of OC Transpo’s transit hubs are having unintended consequences that could force local businesses to get tough on commuters.
© Patricia Lonergan
Place d’Orleans general manager Chris St. Amand said the shopping centre values the transit station attached to the mall, but that it puts pressure on the mall’s overall parking capacity.
The park-and-ride lot across the street isn’t large enough to meet demand, he explained, adding that by 7 a.m. many commuters who can’t find a spot head to the mall to scoop up the best spaces before businesses are even open.
In an effort to mitigate the problem, the shopping centre created a designated section for commuters about 12 years ago, Mr. St. Amand said.
Unlike Place d’Orleans, both Bayshore Shopping Centre and St. Laurent Shopping Centre don’t officially allow any park-and-ride in their lots. Bayshore general manager Denis Pelletier indicated there have been few problems with commuter parking at the mall, suggesting it might be because the transit station has only recently grown or because it’s not a hub like in Orleans.
The shopping centre uses courtesy tickets to inform transit users caught leaving their car in the lot that park-and-ride is prohibited, he said. Usually it works.
Chronic offenders, meanwhile, receive a City of Ottawa ticket, but Mr. Pelletier said that’s always a last resort.
The situation is tougher at St. Laurent, according to officials there. “It’s happening to a great extent,” St. Laurent general manager Gordon McMillan said.
Security personnel rope off about two-thirds of the parking lot until 9 a.m. to deter transit users from parking, he indicated, but it has become a game of cat and mouse where park and riders simply migrate from one area of the lot to another.
He said the problem has grown worse over the years, noting there’s an increase in the number of commuters driving to the mall and catching downtown buses. While there have been talks with OC Transpo, there seems to be little movement.
“They, quite frankly, would rather leave it alone,” Mr. McMillan said of the city. “They would prefer that we allow this to happen.
“In fact, they’ve approached us to officially designate park-and-ride areas, which we just can’t afford to do.”
Even worse, those who have taken the initiative to create designated park-and-ride areas are now burdened with the associated costs of managing them. Place d’Orleans accommodates more than 500 cars per week for transit, Mr. St. Amand said, and while it’s “no consequence” on weekdays to do so, it means extra security in the mornings. It also affects snow removal operations.
Mr. St. Amand said representatives at the shopping centre have talked with OC Transpo about the situation and asked for help dealing with snow removal in the designated area, but so far the city hasn’t offered any assistance.
The challenge for OC Transpo, he added, is to come up with solutions, especially since demand is increasing.
“We’re a shopping centre, not a commuter parking lot,” Mr. St. Amand said. “We may not be able to accommodate these cars forever.”
Solutions, however, are often cost-prohibitive or businesses are reluctant to force matters. Mr. McMillan said his shopping centre could put gates up in certain areas or hire parking attendants.
But costs associated with such measures would be passed on to tenants already paying high rents, as they are in any mall in the city, he explained.
“All these things are just not viable solutions.”
Charging for parking or ticketing and towing would be another means of deterring commuter parking, but that comes with its own problems.
“I’m a little reluctant to do that,” Mr. McMillan said. “I spend over $1 million a year trying to attract people and it wouldn’t take too long to be known as the miserable guy in town if I started tagging and towing everybody.
“If it gets to the point where it’s a real problem – well, it is a real problem – but if it gets any worse, then we will start doing that.”
Calls to the city were not returned by press time.