Suburbanite parking plagues shopping malls

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'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.

Parking / park and ride

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.

Organizations: OC Transpo, Bayshore Shopping Centre

Geographic location: Orleans, Ottawa

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Recent comments

  • Dan
    June 17, 2013 - 09:55

    Bayshore is getting worse and worse, it is a construction nightmare with half the parking section being converted to stores, and now without warning they are giving out $42.00 tickets that go up to $74.00 if not paid within one week. Basically one of the biggest and busiest bus stations in the city now has no parking, nice planning Ottawa.

  • Leanne
    April 29, 2013 - 12:50

    I am a daily commuter of the local bus I feel it to be really inconvenient to have park and riders waste their time, gas, and money traveling all around town to look for more places to park their vehicle for the day. The other day, on a sunday afternoon mind you, I drove all around St Laurent mall parking lotttsss to see if perhaps there was one ... any... places for people to park while they make the economical / environmental cautious decision of taking the bus??... No.. not one... but instead I found endless empty spaces marked by the warning of how park and riders will be ticketed and/or towed if consuming those empty spots... I guess all depending on how they fell that day ;p Yes I agree that those spot should be available for the public shoppers, who very well should trump park and rider parked cars for yes that is what the endless supply of cements slabs where built for.... but if it's not being used up during the day - why not just put a time cap on it - open to park and riders from 6am to 6pm of be ticketed... Yes I understand if St. Laurent begins to give up some parking locations, there will be a demand for more monitoring... but other smaller malls are doing it successfully, so where's the problem again?... I also agree that park and riders do create extra business for the malls especially if they have to walk - through - them to get to the bus stop ( i know because I've been one of them on many occasions) - perfect marketing strategy if you ask me.... There is also the option of the city creating new ground to facilitate the growing population daily OC Transpo Park and Ride commuters....preferably in the St. Laurent / Vanier locations??? :D

  • previous stl mall employee
    March 14, 2012 - 22:33

    This is a huge problem. Going to work is a nightmare because your left circling and circling if your working anytime later then 9am.There are NO spots, even weekdays and the mall is dead. Then there is a huge traffic jam to get out of the parking lot. It can take over half an hour to get out. I am based out of Rideau now and have to pay to park and can always find a spot. Even at Christmas. I went to shop at Stl last week and could not find a spot.

  • Matt
    January 29, 2010 - 15:28

    What an environmentally friendly position for the malls to take. They get the huge benefit of being attached to transit stations which bring thousands of people through every day, but they don't want to contribute any part of their vast seas of parking to transit users. This is purely a question of convenience for non-commuting customers, as mall parking lots are essentially never completely full during the day. I wonder if it occurs to the mall managers that many of the commuters spend money in the malls on their way through? Perhaps instead of referring to this as a "problem", they could think of it as their contribution to the community as a whole, and one which is mutually beneficial to the community and the business.