Officials mull Whitehorse airport’s parking woes

The dark truck is covered in rust and has a completely flat front passenger tire. Through the front window you can see someone's boxes, clothes and sleeping bag stuffed into the back seat.

The dark truck is covered in rust and has a completely flat front passenger tire.

Through the front window you can see someone’s boxes, clothes and sleeping bag stuffed into the back seat.

Elsewhere, a blue Ford pickup truck is parked with a trailer on the back. Strapped to the trailer is a large water tank.

It’s unquestionably an odd sight for someone preparing to fly out of town.

There are about 500 parking spots at the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport.

The largest plane that flies out of the capital has 156 economy class seats.

But the airport parking lot is often full, leaving customers circling the lot before they can fly away.

A quick walk through the area uncovers expired licence plates from all over North America: Oklahoma plates expired in 2008; B.C. plates invalid as of 2012; Ontario plates dated September 2013.

And that’s when you can find plates at all.

An aging black BMW is one of many that’s had its plates taken completely off.

Allan Nixon, the assistant deputy minister of the transportation division, acknowledges there’s a problem, but says there’s a limit to what they can do right now to deal with abandoned vehicles.

His office is preparing some options for possible changes. That includes “some legislative changes possibly on how we can tow vehicles more quickly,” he said, and “possibly changes in the fee structure just to bring the parking fees in line in comparison with similar-sized airports across Canada.”

In January, airport officials did a sweep of the parking lot and found 50 vehicles with either expired plates or no plates at all.

By April, 18 of those vehicles were still there.

“People are driving around with expired plates. It’s not that they are coming and parking and the plates expire. That’s one of the misnomers,” Nixon said.

He acknowledges that a number of vehicles in the parking lot are old and full of belongings. But that’s not enough.

“There’s nothing in the Motor Vehicles Act that says you can’t have your belongings in your car. Yeah, there are vehicles with flat tires. Vehicles get flat tires, does that mean they’re abandoned? That’s the thing we struggle with, how do you define that?”

The 18 vehicles found in April are in the process of being towed, he said. It’s not as easy as calling up a tow truck and dragging the offending vehicle away. The process can take months, Nixon said.

“You have to first track down the owner, then get a registered letter to them and make contact,” he said.

“There’s privacy issues. We have to go through an official request with the motor vehicles branch, which, even though it’s part of our department, if we don’t we’re in trouble with the privacy commissioner.”

Even if a vehicle is finally determined to be abandoned, the issues don’t stop there, Nixon said. Now a towing company is stuck with the problem.

“After they get it, it’s got to sit in impound for a period while it goes through the process of ownership being transferred to them,” he said.

According to Nixon, statistics show more than 60 per cent of the vehicles in the parking lot are there less than an hour. About 20 to 25 per cent are there between one day and 14 days.

“Only one per cent of the vehicles are there longer than a month. So, there’s always vehicles there but it’s not always the same vehicles. They’re rotating through.”

Parking at the airport is only $1.50 a day. People could, in theory, park for most of the month for what it costs to take a cab from Riverdale.

But if the tread marks on the grass are any indicator, some people are not willing to pay even that.

“Absolutely. We’ve had people that drive through the gates. They just run over the gate,” Nixon said.

“We’ve had people drive down the sidewalk to get out of paying their $1.50. It’s ridiculous. It’s amazing what people will do.”

But strengthening the gates may not be the solution.

“If you make it totally impossible to get out, then that 0.01 per cent of the population that doesn’t want to pay is going to just drive through the gate and then we’ve got a $1,000 repair,” he said.

“So there’s a cost-benefit there that we have to consider.”

Still, he said his office needs to do something to make the parking lot available to more people.

“I think we want to look at all the options available and see which ones we think will provide the best solutions. It could end up, and probably will end up, being a combination of a few different things.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at