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Town of Midland offers free parking to re-evaluate faulty meters

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Parking chaos in downtown Midland has temporarily been halted.

The town council has decided to make parking free downtown for the next month, as it looks into fixing its faulty parking meter system.

The pay-by-plate system was introduced last summer, asking drivers to enter their licence plates and doing away with dashboard tickets.

The goal was to streamline parking, but several shop owners say they've only created headaches.

"People can't always remember their plate numbers and often just leave because they're tired of the process," said Joannie Petroff, owner of the Pebble Tree. "I know that over time they may be able to get used to that, but that doesn't help visitors coming. We want it to be an easy, enjoyable experience."

Petroff said downtown lots are often empty, stemming from a lack of tourism so far this summer.

With pandemic recovery, rising prices and inflation hurting everyone's wallets, Petroff believes free parking should be permanent to encourage travel to Midland.

"Two weeks ago, a Friday in June looked more like a Tuesday in February here," Petroff added. "We are making sales, but we're going to rethink our lease that comes due in 2023."

Across the street from Petroff is the Georgian Bakery.

Owner Geoff White is happy council finally listened to concerns from shop owners, temporarily making parking free as it decides how to fix its system.

"At least have free parking on the streets or employee parking in the rear," he said. "It needs to be replaced with a more user-friendly system and managed better. I think the town needs to manage its spending and stop treating us like a piggy bank."

Mayor Stewart Strathearn told CTV News the meters themselves are very module, meaning they could adapt them to a ticket payment system seen in other municipalities.

Another option would be for council to remove them altogether.

Parking meters in Midland, Ont. (Christian D'Avino/CTV News)

"Just add that to the levy and no longer having parking meters in the lots," he said. "But I can tell you now, that would be a roughly two per cent increase to taxes automatically."

Instead, Strathearn said he'd prefer the town to go ahead with a resident parking pass system, making metered parking mostly applicable to visitors and those who opt not to purchase the passes.

"That's something we previously proposed for $99," said Scott Campbell, downtown BIA board chair. "I'm hoping that sometime in the future, we'll come up with a hybrid model, where there is paid parking, but there is also free parking. Free parking would be very advantageous to us."

Campbell said he'd like council to model itself after the City of Cambridge. According to Campbell, free parking there has contributed to an increase in foot traffic downtown, helping to attract people to shop.

"Future development is where we should focus our efforts," he added. "If we can attract people to develop here, that will help our tax base and fill shortcomings we're seeing."

The mayor said growing Midland is his top priority, to fill those same gaps.

Meanwhile, the town council will look to re-evaluate its parking meter system in July.

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