Edmonton’s last coin parking meter was converted into a new EPark spot on Rice Howard Way today. Councillor Scott McKeen, the City’s GM Operations Dorian Wandzura, and Downtown Business Association Executive Director Jim Taylor were all on hand for a brief ceremony that saw the old meter replaced with a new EPark post cap. Councillor McKeen said he was not sad to see the old parking meters go, nor were the City parking staff who had gathered for the spectacle as they recalled the challenges of carrying money around. The move to the digital EPark system is a sign of the times, and it’s not the first time that parking meters have helped to illustrate Edmonton’s progress.
Our city’s first parking meters, 854 manual winding meters, were installed downtown on July 26, 1948. It cost a nickel to park for an hour, or a penny for 12 minutes. Fines were $1. A few days later, the first parking meter theft in Canada took place in Edmonton as a meter from 101A Avenue near 100 Street was stolen. “The meter contained no more than a few dollars,” the Journal recalled in a piece recognizing the 50th anniversary of parking meters in the city. “In the first week meters operated, the city collected $598.98 in coins, plus ‘a king’s ransom in slugs, plugs and buttons,’ according to newspaper reports.” The City took in about $50,000 in revenue from the parking meters that year.
Toronto became the first Canadian city to install meters accepting dimes in 1952, but Edmonton was doing its share of experimentation at that time too. A Globe and Mail article on the news reported:
“The latest thing in parking meters is being tried in Edmonton. Installed in municipally operated parking lots are meters which during the day take money for parking but at night take 25 cents to keep a car’s motor warm. A coin in the machine sends current through wires which are attached to the motor.”
That story was published on February 6, 1952 so that’s no April Fool’s joke! By 1954, Edmonton’s parking meter tally had grown to about 2,000.
At some point Edmonton’s parking meters were upgraded to the now more familiar self-winding or electric style. And in 1991, they were upgraded to stop accepting dimes and to start accepting loonies. The Journal reported at the time:
“Before the increase, quarters and dimes covered the 60- to 80-cent-per-hour parking fees but the goods and services tax and the city’s desire to add an extra $300,000 to its $1.8-million yearly parking coffers has changed that.”
There was no shortage of complaints about high parking costs and parking meter enforcement over the years. For instance in 1987, about 30 motocyclists protested against parking meter enforcement by using up almost every spot along a block of Whyte Avenue. Not everyone was so peaceful though. Ray Morin was in charge of the city crew that looked after parking meters, and reflecting on the 50th anniversary in 1998 he told the Journal that about three or so meters were stolen each month. “They take the cement, the works,” he said. Vandalism and abuse of parking officers were also problems for as along as we’ve had parking meters.
Not everything stayed the same though. When parking meters were first installed downtown, the response from the public was pretty negative. People were upset about having to pay for something they previously got for free. But 50 years later, parking meters were being hailed as convenient, less expensive than parkades, and a way to bring some vibrancy back downtown. “There’s a lot of parking out there, but people want convenience,” Ray Morin told the Journal in 1998. “So we brought in the meters.” Now we’re looking to strike a balance, promoting active transportation options while ensuring downtown is accessible for visitors.
The City did experiment with getting rid of parking meters back in 1995. The small stretch of 103 Avenue between 100 Street and 101 Street had 13 angled parking spots and instead of meters the City installed two ticket dispensing machines at a cost of $10,000 each. The machines were expected to be cheaper to operate than parking meters, but they didn’t last and eventually parking meters were installed.
Ten years later, Impark brought pay-by-cellphone to parking lots in Edmonton. They had a transaction fee of 35 cents, but for many it was worth the convenience. Calgary was developing their parking system at that time and made the switch in 2007. Edmonton borrowed some machines from Calgary for a trial in June 2013, and after Council approval the following year, installed the first 16 EPark machines in October 2015.
Edmonton used to operate about 3,300 parking meters (159 of which were in the garage under City Hall) and collected nearly $15 million per year. The new EPark system was budgeted at $12 million to implement and is expected to increase revenues to about $22 million a year by 2018. More than 375 EPark machines now located in Edmonton, mostly around downtown, Old Strathcona, and 124 Street. The new system means there’s actually more space for parking (thanks to the removal of the lines) and will be more efficient for the City to operate and enforce. Prices can also be adjusted in response to demand.
The final parking meter will be taken to the City Archives for safe keeping. If you want to keep a bit of parking history for yourself, you can buy one of the old meters:
“Citizens wanting to buy an existing parking meter, in ‘as is’ condition, at a cost of $100 per meter, are asked to contact 311 by May 31 to express their interest. The City is also hoping to sell the remainder of the meters to another municipality. The next step in the evolution of parking is the move towards automated enforcement with use of vehicle-mounted cameras later in 2016.”