Update 1, August 27, 10:00 pm:
After a lengthy debate regarding the fairness of charging for parking and various alternatives, the Commission voted 5-3 this evening to implement the staff recommendations.
Today, the TTC will consider a proposal to eliminate free parking for Metropass users at its lots. When I first heard of this, my reaction was supportive because, as a non-driver, I don’t benefit from whatever subsidy the parking lots represent. Some media comments have placed this subsidy as high as $7 per user per day, an unconscionable amount of subsidy that would be intolerable if “parking” were a proposed new route.
However, looking closely at the figures reveals a different story.
The TTC loses $3.6-million annually on parking operations on a total budget of $6.3-million. In other words, the cost recovery is about 43 percent. Things don’t look too good yet.
However, there are 14,000 parking spaces and this means that the loss per space is about $250 per year, or about $1 per weekday. This is nowhere near the figure cited above, and is much more in line with a reasonable incentive to use transit.
By analogy to bus and streetcar routes, the subsidies vary from route to route, but the network is most important. At $1/space/day, this subsidy is higher than the average for many bus routes, but not completely off the map.
Conversely, if the TTC were able to fill its lots even with a parking charge of $2 or more, they would make far more than is needed to offset the operating cost. Bluntly, the TTC’s numbers don’t add up.
Lest you think that I am an advocate for commuter parking, that’s quite another matter. Parking lots have many undesirable characteristics including the poisoning of land for community use — buildings generating lots of pedestrian activity and a sense of neighbourhood. New parking lots have property and construction costs, and if structures are involved, those costs will be substantial.
Even existing lots can represent lost opportunities. When the outer stations on the Bloor-Danforth line were built, land was cheap and a lot of it was already in the public sector. Parking was an obvious land use. Only now, 40 years after the lines opened, are we starting to see development at some locations that should have appeared years ago if the common myths about subway stations creating development could be believed. In effect, the TTC strangled development right where it would be most desirable by dedicating so much land for parking.
As an aside, I should note that some lots such as Finch are on land that cannot be developed, and this at least puts the Hydro corridor to some use. However, there is a limit to how far east and west from Finch Station parking can be built, and sites like this are an exception in the system overall.
On GO Transit, the lots at stations are full by 7 am, and massive parking expansion is really not in the cards. GO has more stations in industrial areas where high density residential development is less likely, but the problem remains that there’s a limit to how much land the transit system can dedicate to parking.
The real problem is that feeder services to GO and TTC stations leave a lot to be desired especially as demand on both systems grows, bidirectional travel becomes common, and frequent all-day GO service is finally getting serious discussion in transit plans.
As for the existing TTC lots, my position is this: if they can be redeveloped both to liberate the capital value of the land and to provide more transit riders while converting sterile transit terminals to community centres, so be it. In those odd cases like the Hydro corridor where redevelopment is not practical, let people park, but recognize that there are limits to this and that parking is not a panacea for attracting riders to transit.
As always, good service is the key.