No free rides for Calgary Parking Authority

Mayoral candidate questions rising revenues, calls for internal and external audit 

A former alderman is calling for an internal and external audit of the Calgary Parking Authority’s financial reports after discovering an increase in the city’s revenues over the past six years.

Jon Lord, alderman for Ward 8 from 1995 until 2001 and a current mayoral candidate, says Calgarians are upset about the way parking has been handled in the city, and has also found issue with the increase in revenues the Calgary Parking Authority (CPA) has reported over the past eight years.

“There has been a large increase in revenues, which raises many questions that taxpayers need answers to,” said Lord, who worked as a financial advisor before entering politics.

“The Calgary Parking Authority’s main mandate has been to manage parking as a resource to the city. I’m arguing that it should be to manage parking as a resource to Calgarians.”

Lord compared the CPA’s Spotlight on Parking reports for the years of 2003 and 2010, which are available on the CPA’s website. From that data, he found that total revenues were $40.2 million in 2002, while in 2009 that number jumped to $69.5 million – an increase of nearly 75 per cent.

What Lord found most objectionable, however, regards an annual requirement of the CPA. In 2002, the CPA gave nearly 35 per cent of its revenues to the city – $13.9 million – while in 2009 the CPA reported giving the city nearly 27 per cent of its total revenues, which equals a drop of nearly nine per cent, even though it was a higher dollar value ($18.7 million).

This prompted Lord to call for the audit, and while he doesn’t deny the importance of the CPA handling its own audit with its own internal financial workers, he stresses the need for an additional “thorough external review.”

“This is an organization that has gone out of its way to alienate virtually every Calgarian,” said Lord. “They’re constantly asking themselves, ‘What’s the maximum amount of money we can charge Calgarians?’ And now they appear to be sharing less of that money with the city, which is just wrong.”

However, Larry Ryder, chair of the CPA’s board of directors, says that he is “in no way concerned” about any kind of review.

“We welcome any kind of investigation into our finances,” said Ryder. “We have nothing to hide.”

Lord is also arguing that ever since the introduction of the ParkPlus system – designed to rid the downtown core and other parts of the city of parking meters and so-called “meter maids” – parking enforcement should be less expensive to operate: “That’s what the whole point of that system was, wasn’t it,” asked Lord.

Ryder doesn’t agree.

“This ParkPlus system cost us about $5-to-6 million,” he said, “so of course there are going to be increases in both our spending and our budget. We’ve had to return less money so that we can continue to maintain this new technology.”

Lord’s claims that the CPA doesn’t have Calgarians’ best interests at heart has been a rumbling consensus amongst the city’s population for years. Indeed, when asked about their thoughts on city parking, Calgarians have not hesitated to express their distaste.

“I think parking here is lousy,” said Mary Willids, a legal assistant who works downtown. “I’m not surprised that [the CPA] is subject to review, because they’ve basically been lying to us for years now.”

Jason Cook, a software engineer who’s also based downtown, also feels that the CPA deserves a closer look at their operations.

“It’s easy to see why [the CPA] is earning more money,” Cook continued. “The city is growing, there are more people in the city, more cars, but they haven’t added any new spaces. They’re capitalizing on the growth of a city. One day their free ride will end.”

Ryder is quick to point out that Calgarians are targeting the wrong people in their anger over parking in the city.

“We only manage 18 per cent of all parking in this city,” said Ryder. “The rest of it – the majority of it – is run by independent and private operators who charge more. In terms of what we actually handle, we’ve been operating parking in this city quite smoothly.”

City council, on the recommendation of Ald. Druh Farrell, has ordered a strategic review of the CPA’s 2009 financial return to city, which should be completed and handed to the city’s land use, planning and transportation committee this month. If something is found to be amiss, that could spur the charge for a full external audit of the CPA.

Eric Sawyer, chief financial officer for the City of Calgary, doesn’t sound too concerned.

“The city hasn’t had issue with the Calgary Parking Authority’s financial returns,” said Sawyer. “All we are doing is double-checking.”

For now, Sawyer speaks for the municipal government in saying that there’s no cause for concern.

“I’m confident that this report will return with a satisfactory result,” he said.

Originally published June 2010