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

A Parking Pass

Sixteen years after amalgamation, city council took a big step toward by-law harmonization yesterday which, while as boring as it might sound, is an important milestone. Not everyone was happy about the outcome and, certainly, everything isn’t now all ironed out. ballonanimalQuirks remain. (Seriously? Rooming houses still can only be built in certain parts of the city? Seriously?) But hey. What city doesn’t have its quirky by-laws? I hear tell of some places where buskers aren’t allowed to give children balloon animals.

As expected, it wasn’t a quick and easy debate. Change never is quick or easy. What did surprise me, and that surprise is all on me because, well, how could I not see it coming, was that the biggest subject of debate on the issue of by-law harmonization involved parking.

Nothing highlights just how car-centric this city still actually is than the passion displayed for parking. Where, how much of it and keeping the cost absolutely negligible were all matters of very intense discussion on the council floor. parkinglot1Parking as some sort of  inalienable right bestowed upon anyone as soon as they purchase an automobile.

I’ll believe Councillor Josh Matlow when he says his motion to maintain free visitor parking at all multi-residential and apartment buildings comes from a place of protecting tenants’ rights. That there’s a time for the bigger discussion on parking but yesterday wasn’t it. And he may believe that I referred to his motion as ‘parking pandering’ only because I like to take shots.

But the fact is that there’s no such thing as free parking and we really need to stop pretending there is. It is not an amenity to be used as a bargaining chip. We all pay in some way for tenants to have free visitor’s parking, for “free” parking of any kind. parkinglotAnd if Councillor Matlow and the 34 other councillors who voted in favour of his motion think I’m being hyperbolic, might I suggest they take some time and read through Donald Shoup’s The High Cost of Free Parking. (Or, here’s a 20 page paper on the subject from the professor.) Part II, section 3, Getting the Parking Right, in Jeff Speck’s Walkable City is also a very good primer on the subject.

The emphasis on cheap, plentiful parking warps our ability to properly plan a healthier, more liveable city. Any notion of “free” parking encourages people to drive to destinations that have it. It maintains the private automobile’s top notch in our transportation hierarchy and continues to push every other mode of transit to second, third and fourth class status. Don’t believe me? parkinglot2At your next dinner party, express the view that public transit should be a free amenity for everybody. Gauge the feedback you get in comparison to stating the opinion drivers really ought to be paying more of their fair share for parking.

Any positive efforts a councillor makes in the direction of furthering public transit or cycling or walking is simply undone by their insistence on maintaining the illusion of free or cheap parking. Rationalize it all you want, cower in the face of voter-driver wrath but it only stalls the realistic conversation we need to have. You can have a vibrant, dynamic city, full of all sorts of ways to get around or you can have oodles of “free” parking for anyone and everyone who asks. You just can’t have both.

scoldingly submitted by Cityslikr

The Meter’s Running

Parking my ass down on a chair in committee room #1 at City Hall to take in the view of the first Toronto-East York Community Council meeting of the new year, look at all these shiny, fresh faces in action. Councillors Fragedakis, Bailão, Matlow, McMahon, Layton, Wong-Tam. Such a relief after being subject to the grizzled, grim visages that occupy desk space on the Budget and Executive committees. Cllrs. Del Grande, Shiner, Thompson, Kelly, Pelacio. Del Grande, Shiner. Did I mention them already? Yeah well, slap an eye-patch on either of them and we’ve got our very own Rooster Cogburns minus the infinitesimal traces of empathy displayed by the fictional cowboy. The Toronto-East York Community Council also includes 3 of my 4 favourite councillors, Cllrs. Vaughan, Davis and Perks who is serving as the council chair.

In case you don’t know, community councils serve as a direct contact between citizens and City Hall. Members from council sit and listen while people depute. Depute. Didn’t even know that was a word. There are 4 community councils throughout the city and, while they were given some power over local matters like by-laws and permits with the City of Toronto Act back in 2006, they still seem to operate more at an advisory level than an actual hands-on enforcement body.

Armed with information from their respective deputations – fun fact, the word ‘deputation’ can mean the group or person who deputes as well as both the act of being deputing and the state of being deputed. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, ya thesaurus loving kooks! Each Community Council will then take their recommendations on their respective local matters to the full city council for further consideration and an eventual vote.

More or less.

Civics pseudo-lesson over.

During the course of a deputation regarding a planned condo development out on King Street West, the subject of parking came up. A lot. (Pun not intended but not shied away from either.) It has been my experience watching public debates on proposed high(er) rise developments throughout the downtown core of Toronto that parking is up the list of resident and business concerns. Which comes as a surprise to me, frankly. Density intensification, public transit concerns, these things I get. But parking?

Of course, business owners will beat that drum, intractable as they are in the mid-20th-century mindset that cars equal sales. No number of studies suggesting that may not be the case will convince them otherwise. Local residents, too, are leery of new apartment/condo developments not only because of increased congestion but because of the premium it puts on their street parking. In the face of these fears, developers claim that there’s seldom a dearth of parking spots in their new buildings as those buying condos downtown don’t seem to want them. Hear, hear. I say. Urban dwellers reducing their dependency on the automobile. That sounds about right.

Not so fast, says Councillor Pam McConnell, our Katherine Hepburn’s Eula Goodnight I think for no real good reason other than I’ve still got True Grit-ish things on my mind. She says that those buying condos pass on parking spots not because they don’t own cars but to save money. Councillor McConnell claims that spaces in the condominiums comes with a price tag anywhere from $20-30 K. Why pay that when you can buy a six month street parking permit for $60?

Wait. I’m sorry. What? Sixty dollars for six months of parking! Are you sure about that, Councillor McConnell? It’s 2011 not 1980. Nobody living in the downtown core could be paying $10/month for parking. You must have your facts and figures wrong.

Checking the city’s website and it turns out that the councillor’s numbers are, indeed, off. With no access to off-site parking, a resident will pay just under $15/month for their first vehicle. It’ll cost them under $40/month for any subsequent vehicles. If a resident wants to park out on the street just for the convenience of it, you know, they have access to off-site parking, they’ll be out of pocket slightly under $50/month. That’s about $12 a week, under $2 a day, to park on the street simply as a matter of convenience.

How’s that for your Gravy Trains?! In fact, if you want to guest street park your gravy train outside your house, the city merely asks you to hand over $21.18 for a week. That’s $3 a day for those of you not good with the long division. To park on a street in downtown Toronto.

The War on the Car indeed.

Now I know that parking is a mystifyingly visceral topic, driven more by some ancient sense of entitlement than by good economic/environmental sense. I own a car therefore I am allowed to put it right here at no extra cost to me whatsoever. It just seems outrageous that a city as purportedly under the fiscal gun as our current administration claims it is simply gives away huge tracks of its public space for peanuts. Yes, I called on-street parking ‘public space’ and I’m not the only one. In fact, I lifted the idea outright from a much smarter writer on city stuff over at Urbanophile. Parking on a city’s streets for chump change is not some inalienable right.

We’ve talked about this before and much brighter minds than ours deliberate over the concept of proper pricing for parking to maximize profits while mitigating congestion and the resulting environmental impact. But it doesn’t take a genius to conclude that Toronto, at least in terms of its handling of on-street parking, is simply acting as Santa Claus to drivers. If you own a car, you better be prepared to pay for it. That includes the real cost of parking. And the price of that is a lot more than pennies a day.

indignantly submitted by Cityslikr