Vancouver considers prepaid morning after parking to cut drunk driving

CBC photoJust in time for the Christmas party season's peak, Vancouver is considering an innovative approach to encouraging over-refreshed revellers to leave their cars parked.

City council will vote next week on a plan to allow motorists to prepay by phone for morning-after street parking, allowing them to leave their vehicles overnight without fear of a ticket.

Councillor Raymond Louie of Vision Vancouver, the majority civic party, will put forward the motion Tuesday asking staff to immediately allow drivers to front load meters for up to two hours, the Vancouver Sun reports.

Parking at metered spots in the city is free between 10 p.m. and 9 a.m. the following morning. The change would allow drivers to buy up to two hours of time in the morning over the phone, presumably allowing enough time to go and retrieve their vehicles.

The proposal is the brainchild of two University of British Columbia economics students, Leighton Hay and Curtis Kuznecov, who were impressed by a similar program in Seattle.

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"The risk of getting a ticket the next morning, possibly being towed and having to wake up early to retrieve their car adds to the cost of their decision whether or not to drink and drive," the pair argued in a letter sent to city council last month, according to the Sun. "Since these costs outweigh the benefits, many times the social drinker that has had one too many chooses to drive home.

"This policy benefits the City of Vancouver with extra parking revenue, and also results in a positive spillover effect to the community with [fewer] impaired drivers on the road."

Kuznecov told the Sun last month he was in Seattle to watch an NFL Seahawks game. Heading out with friends afterward, he was delighted to discover he could add up to two hours on his parking meter for the following morning, saving him $50 in hotel parking charges.

He didn't think much more about it until one of his professors asked the class to form groups and come up with a policy that would change something in the community, the Sun said.

"Our whole thought about it is: it really benefits both parties," Kuznecov said.

It's not clear whether Vancouver would be the first Canadian city to try this approach to keeping impaired drivers off the road.

Seattle initiated its program early in 2011 and KIRO TV reported last March it had been used 45,000 times. However, the Seattle Police Department had no statistics on whether the program has brought any decline in impaired-driving arrests.

“I’d have to look at the numbers, but my gut tells me no, not yet,” police spokesman Mike Nolan told KIRO.

The idea has limitations, most importantly that meters on streets normally designated as rush-hour arterials still would be off limits, with vehicles subject to towing.

"So people would have to be careful if they wanted to take advantage of this not to put their car where no parking is allowed in the morning," Vision Councillor Geoff Meggs told the Sun.

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And, of course, if you normally plug the meter with coins, you'd be out of luck. The prepaying system requires drivers to call the electronic-pay parking line or use a smart-phone app to punch in the number of the meter.

Vancouver Metro News noted some drivers have already figured out that you can prepay by phone if you take down the number of your meter and call at exactly 9 a.m. the following morning to buy extra time.

Hay and Kuznecov will make a brief presentation to council before next Tuesday's vote, which is expected to pass given that Mayor Gregor Robertson seconded Louie's motion and it's supported by the chief of police, business leaders and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.