VANCOUVER -- Visitors to Granville Island have to remember to feed the meter again, after pay parking came back into effect at the beginning of May.

Parking at the tourist hotspot had been free since last March as management tried to lure locals back to the island to fill the gap left by tourists when COVID-19 restrictions shut down most domestic and international travel.

After a year of free parking, some regulars had to remind themselves to buy time.

“I knew but I didn’t think about it, otherwise I would have parked somewhere else,” said Sara Blais, who said she has been visiting weekly ever since free parking went into effect.

When the pandemic hit, many businesses shuttered and most of those that remained open did so with reduced hours.

That’s when management decided offering three hours of free parking could potentially increase business.

“The idea was, as soon as parking was filled up again, as soon as there were no spaces for people to come to the island, we would start to look at it again,” said Tom Lancaster, Granville Island’s general manager.

As soon as the weather warmed up this spring, he says he noticed parking spaces becoming scarce again.

“We looked at who was using the parking, and it seemed like there were a lot of people coming to the island, parking for free, like you can’t do anywhere else in Vancouver,” Lancaster said. “And then just leaving the island, going on the seawall. A lot of people even with kayaks, canoes, bikes.”

After consulting with businesses, the island turned parking meters back on May 1.

“We’re in the middle of a pandemic. We’ve got to work together,” said David McCann of Creekhouse Industries, who manages several properties on the island which are leased out to artisans and other businesses.

McCann says many of his tenants are still struggling and he doesn’t think now is the right time to start charging customers for parking again.

“The situation changed between when they decided to make that policy and brought it in. The government came and said, 'We’re going to do a further lockdown,'” he said, referring to intra-province travel restrictions. “And there was no desire on CMHC’s part to re-examine their decision.”

People working on the island also have to pay.

“Being able to come here and get my money for tuition and not having to use that money that I’m already making to pay for parking is really helpful,” said student Kaitlyn Roberts, who works on the island and enjoyed the free year of parking.

Granville Island’s parking ambassadors are also back, helping people operate the machines and writing tickets for those who choose not to pay.

The cost of parking is $1 per hour during the week, and $2 per hour on the weekends.

Anyone who doesn’t pay could get a $40 ticket, which increases to $80 if it’s not paid promptly.