Paying Dearly For Parking

April 5, 2013

Everybody’s got a story as to why they need free or cheap parking.astorytotell

As an amenity in a lease agreement. A spot for out of town visitors not using transit. Just because they have a car.

The most compelling reason I’ve heard recently is that many areas in Toronto with multi-residential and apartment buildings are woefully under-served by public transit. Market rates for parking will only increase a sense of isolation. While I’m empathetic to that particular line of reasoning, I think if we maintain the status quo on transportation matters because areas are under-served by public transit, nothing much is ever going to change.

We need to figure out how to start squeezing automobile privilege at the proper level in order to increase the demand for better public transit. Frankly, there’s no better place to start than with our demented, city destroying parking policies. I do not think it a stretch to say that without a serious rethink of how we price parking freeparking1(spoiler alert: it should be pricier and more reflective of market forces) there is little hope of making Toronto more livable, healthy, equitable.

Here’s a personal example of what I’m talking about:

Where I live in downtown Toronto, I am a four minute walk in three directions to three streetcar lines, an eight minute walk to a fourth. In fifteen minutes, I can walk to two of our subway lines. I have quick access to a series of primitive bike lanes. There is hardly an amenity I need that I can’t get to within an easy half-hour stroll.

There’s a garage at the back of my house. When needed it can fit one car. Neighbours tell me the previous owner squeezed two into it. That would be impossible now.onepotato

Street parking is all permit. There’s one hour parking for free from 10 a.m. to midnight. Between those times, it is pretty heavily patrolled. You can be pretty much guaranteed a $30 ticket if you park a car without a permit outside of those hours. At the top of the street, there are two surface parking lots and one underground.

All told, after one car in the garage, I tell visitors that parking’s a bitch unless you’re prepared to pay for it. Something like $15 for 24 hours in one of the surface lots. Pricey, right? $1.60/hour.

But wait.

It gets better.

crazyIf I know ahead of time that somebody with a car is going to stay over for the evening, I can apply to the city and pay about $10 for 24 hours. It’s $15 for 48 hours. A week? $19.66 plus HST.

But wait.

I’m not done.

Say I own a car, got it parked out back in the garage but need someplace to put a second car. That’ll set me back some $54.22 a month. In downtown Toronto. Surrounded by public transit. A stone’s throw from almost anything my little heart desires. And it’s still only going to cost me $650.61 a year to park a second car.

Don’t even get me started on the cost if I didn’t have direct access to my own parking spot.

I do realize everyone isn’t as fortunate as I am when it comes to transportation choice. The fact of the matter is many people have to drive to get to work, to school, to do even the most basic of errands. I get that. Part of the reason why is that we’ve encouraged the automobile lifestyle by not fully and properly costing its use. That now has to change.

Our approach to pricing parking makes absolutely no fucking sense outside of the concept of subsidizing car use. There is no other rational explanation for it. If you want to see hypocrisy in a proclaimed free market, fiscal conservative, start up a conversation with them on the subject of transportation policy and the cost of parking (if not general automobile road use).


Rather than just a continued rant from me to wrap this discussion up, and because it’s Friday and I’m lazy, let me just sing you out with a series of random quotes from the professor of parking, Donald Shoup, from his 1997 paper, The High Cost of Free Parking. If we want to get our city planning right, we have to get our attitudes toward parking right.

The only research on how parking requirements affect housing shows that they raise housing costs, reduce urban density, and reduce land values.


In many cases, form no longer follows function, fashion, or even finance. Instead, form follows parking requirements. Minimum parking requirements determine what can be built, what it looks like, and how much it costs. Minimum parking requirements have transformed many residential streets into garagescapes where the only obvious way to enter a building is with an electronic garage-door opener… Planners initially designed parking requirements to serve buildings. Architects now design buildings to serve the parking requirements.


Minimum parking requirements thus reduce the flexibility of existing buildings, stymie adaptive reuse, and stifle enterprise.


Minimum parking requirements act like a fertility drug for cars. Why do urban planners prescribe this drug? One explanation is that planners are not exercising professional judgment, but are simply responding to political pressure.


Minimum parking requirements arose from the vision of a world with ample free parking. Parking requirements have legislated this vision into reality because every new building must correspond to the vision, no matter how much it costs. Parking requirements hide the cost of parking by bundling it into higher housing prices, higher consumer prices, lower urban density, and lower land values. Everyone but the motorist pays for parking.


The cost of providing parking has ceased to influence most decisions about whether to own or use a car. Because motorists pay nothing for parking, they own and use cars as if parking costs nothing, and traffic congestion results. When citizens object to congestion, planners restrict new development to reduce traffic. That is, minimum parking requirements force development to subsidize cars, and planners must then limit the density of development (and of people) to limit the density of cars. Free parking has become the arbiter of urban form, and cars have replaced people and buildings as zoning’s real density concern.


Planning for parking is planning without prices.


not-idlingly-submitted by Cityslikr