That Free P - it Went Down the Drain

News 100 blueBy Staff

October 6th, 2020



It was too good to last.

Or was it a case of the perk being abused by too many people – with the downtown merchants who were originally getting a benefit that over time got away from them.

The result is to ask that Council approve a decision to eliminate the free parking that was available for all of the month of December,

Every program or service has to meet at least one of the visions that make up the Vision to Focus Alignment: Focus Area 5 – Delivering customer centric services with a focus on efficiency and technology transformation.

In promoting the Free Parking service someone at city hall got really creative and put together a very funny 35 second video.  Check it out

The downtown business community as the city’s customer, requested a change in the parking service provided.

The Downtown Parking Committee (DPC) was established on November 11, 2002 as a citizen advisory committee of council. The mandate of the DPC is to:

• To provide comments and advice to Council on strategies and policies that affect the development and delivery of parking services in Downtown Burlington

• To consider the community’s interests regarding parking in Downtown Burlington and assist Council in addressing those concerns.

On June 17, 2013, Council approved changes to on-street and municipal facility parking, which approved free parking for all on-street meters and in municipal parking facilities in the Defined Parking Area in downtown Burlington for the month of December.

The intention of this initiative was to improve the parking experience and support economic activity, special events, tourism, and visitor activity in the downtown throughout the month of December.


Get used to this experience in December.

The program was well received by the downtown business community. However, over the past several years, the benefit of the program has been challenged and in December 2019, the DPC was informed that the consensus among the Burlington Downtown Business Association (BDBA) membership was that the program is no longer achieving the original goal, and additionally, that the reduced turnover in parking spaces observed during the Free P period has in fact, become detrimental to business activity.

The DPC agreed on a motion to pause the December Free P! initiative to allow the committee to review options to revise the program. The BDBA circulated a survey to all membership, requesting their feedback and personal experience on the program. The survey consisted of three options:

1. Cancel the program
2. Modify the program
3. Status Quo

As a result of the response, the Burlington Downtown Parking Advisory Committee held a special meeting on March 3, 2020 where the findings of the survey were presented.

While modifications to the program were considered at length, consensus was reached that given the current parking occupancy levels in the downtown, both visitors and businesses would benefit more from the turnover of parking spaces that paid parking would encourage.


Too many downtown merchants took advantage of the free parking; city staff were taking up so much of the space that the city manager at the time had to put out as memo bringing that practice to a halt.

City of Burlington Transportation Services staff serve in a support capacity to the DPC. Staff consider the DPC and BDBA as the voice of the downtown business community and will support the decision to discontinue the December Free P! parking program.

December Free P is no longer fulfilling its intended purpose and moreover has lowered turnover rates which is considered detrimental to business activity.

The downtown municipal parking service functions with a net zero annual operating budget. Net revenues in excess of expenses are allocated to the Downtown Parking Reserve Fund. Should expenses exceed revenues, funds are withdrawn from the reserve fund to ensure that the downtown parking service continues to be self-sufficient.

FreeP December FNL ParkingWhen the Free P program was implemented the annual cost of permits was charged over 11 months of the year and each permit holder saw an increase in the monthly fee. With the termination of the Free P program, permits will now once again be collected over 12 months thereby reducing the cost of the monthly permit.

Eliminating the Free P program will bring in additional paid parking revenues, which would contribute to the parking reserve fund.

Staff will work with the Communications Department to develop appropriate communication and media releases.
Council’s decision on these matters will be communicated to stakeholders and the community through the Downtown Parking Committee membership, a media release, a marketing campaign and the city’s website

The proposed amendment to By-law 39-2016 is supportive of the DPC’s recommendation to remove December Free P.

That should get it through Committee and on to Council.

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