Paying Dearly For Parking

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

7 Responses to Paying Dearly For Parking

  1. Patrick Smyth says:

    Maybe Josh Matlow will change his mind on the free parking? I mean, he’s changed his mind on VRT.

    Or, maybe it’s a disease councillors suffer from while under the dome. I mean, look how many changed their minds on the Porter deal yesterday!

    Kinda how all those so-called humanitarians voted to kill Afforable Housing in my ‘hood.

  2. loosecannonto says:

    One you accept Shoup’s logic on parking minimums, you start to see the folly of planning everywhere. Shoup asks “why should we think the government is competent to know why this development needs 51 parking spaces, but not 47 or 55?” But the same basic question applies to lots of planning decisions.

    “Why should we think that the government is competent to decide whether a building should be 4 or 6 or 8 stories?”

    “Why should we think that the government is competent to decide that only homes, and not businesses, should be built on this street?”

    And so on. There are plenty of Shoupistas who read his work and only–and I think, incorrectly–apply his logic to parking, and don’t realize how radical his logic really is.

  3. It’s very important to distinguish between situations where design criteria force the creation of parking-centric land use, and existing, especially older, parts of the city. Your example of the one-car garage in the back lane works just fine if you are the only car owner in your house, but if it has been divided into flats, there may be more — that’s what permit parking is all about. Simple question: what price level for an on-street spot would deter someone from owning a second car?

    The debate between Matlow and Milczyn turned on the question of high rises that are near major traffic generators like subway stations, and where the long-existing surface lots turned into commercial parking operations. The degree to which guests have free access to this parking varies by site, but the important point is that the surface parking was created to avoid flooding surrounding streets with demand from the towers.

    When people visit me, they use on-street spaces nearby to avoid paying, but this takes capacity my neighbours expect to have available, but which was lost when my building started to charge (it’s still cheaper to park here than in the Green P lot right beside Broadview Station).

    Shoup clearly identified the high subsidy drivers/parkers receive relative to everyone else — some of this is buried in the capital cost of a new development; some of it is a societal cost of warped land use to satisfy parking demand. Probably the most outrageous cost/space value is at the new Harbourfront Centre garage where the value is over $100k/space. This agency simply would not give up its surface lot without some replacement, and we paid for it out of the same pot that is rebuilding Queens Quay.

    We have talked about building a “transit city” but fail to invest in credible alternatives to driving. Even the eastern waterfront transit plans are hobbled by inter-agency wrangling about funding and technology.

    The situation away from downtown is quite different because the non-driving options are less savoury and impose a greater penalty for non-car owners. The Star just started a series on Peel Region noting that it now has demographics more like Toronto than the “middle class suburb” it once aspired to be. Decades of planning were built on the myth that everyone would have the economic means to sustain car ownership and this was the badge of escaping the transit-oriented lower class city life. Now we have huge areas with pedestrian unfriendly road layouts, indifferent transit, and jobs far off of the arterial (ie transit) corridors.

    In the midst of these problems, I am not sure that lecturing drivers about the “real cost” of parking is the most effective tactic. It’s a valid discussion about new developments and even about repurposing existing land use, but motorist bashing is counterproductive as a pro-transit argument, especially if it takes on a classist tinge presuming that all drivers have money to burn.

    It’s intriguing that the commercial parking levy, a real money-maker, would place the burden on, for example, the mall owners, not their customers, as conversion to paid lots is unlikely. This will raise new revenue, but won’t change the supply of “free” parking and all that this implies.

  4. Simon Says says:

    Until transit is reliable, faster and more convenient than the car, transit will always be a poor second choice.


    Drive my kids to school 11 minutes, by transit 58 minutes
    Drive my kids to hockey practice 7 minute, by transit 35 minutes
    Drive my kids to swim lessons 8 minutes, by transit 44 minutes

    Drive to work 22 minutes, by transit 1 hour 32 mintues

    Not too mention the lack of zone fares and to constantly having to leave the house with tickets and tokens and transfers, etc.

    • Steve says:

      Did you factor in your choice of living were these travel times favour the car? I made a give and take choice to live closer to transit and the ability to walk where I needed to conduct my daily activities. This is a trend for our younger members of our society making these kinds of life style changes.

      • Simon Says says:

        There are other living choices that trump most decisions on location and that is being able to send your kids to a specific school. Living with walking distance of the school is not financially feasible. Most homes are $1mil plus.

        We live in a walking neighborhood with grocery, bakery, library within walking distance.

        Transit is great if you on the subway lines or streetcar. Taking meandering buses to work is painful. Hauling kids on and off buses to get to get them to school with an hour commute is not happening.

  5. Sonny says:

    Ford led a group of 22 after 3 hours to have a Hero Burgers on the Square even though there are burgers at the trucks on Queen St.

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