Toronto proposes to waste $1M

I was thrilled to read in Wednesday’s Globe that Toronto is proposing to address parking pricing in the City. Maurice Anderson gets top Shoupista marks for thinking “the hike will help ensure that drivers can find on-street spaces when they need them for short-term errands such as shopping”. That is what short term parking is for – convenience and commerce – get in, do your thing, get out.

But things went south from there.

Mr. Anderson gets very low marks for saying, "I think 50 cents is reasonable" and even lower for saying, “the new rates … compare to inflation over that time…”. Councilor Ashton dutifully and lazily repeated the inflation mantra to 680News, when he said “drivers should realize this would be the first increase at the meter in eight years …[a] 50 cent per hour increase is fair and is still a good deal for drivers compared to private lots.”

Then Councilor Ashton went on to say: “I think people look to the Toronto Parking Authority to get the best bargain for parking in Toronto, it's a great bargain”, which is true, but saying “I feel I want to go and park a couple more times to celebrate the good deal”, really ridicules the real issue.

Parking pricing is properly about access and congestion reduction, not about inflation adjustments and certainly not about celebratory parking. And yes, parking is useful to raise revenue and the City could and should raise much more this way.

Parking prices, when structured as poorly as they are in Toronto need to be reset to reduce “circling” or “cruising”. That is the technique many motorists use to go round and round the block at King and Simcoe (and every other busy street) so they can park for $4-6 for 2 hours instead of driving up four floors two blocks away to pay $16 for 2 hours.

Which would you rather do for a 90 minute shopping expedition, pay $5 and walk 30 steps in the daylight or pay $12 and walk two blocks through an underground parking lot? And isn’t it worth cruising slowly around the block three times to land one of those sweet spots? 15 cents in gas and 6 minutes of cruising to save $7 and a 6 minute stair-climb? It is absolutely worth it. Always.

Donald Shoup says drivers cruising for curb or metered parking generate 30 percent of traffic in business districts. He recommends that cities adjust the price of metered parking to keep 15% of spaces vacant and eliminate cruising. He says with balance between demand for parking and supply of spaces, cities would generate more revenue, which they could use to improve local public services.

Fellow Torontonians: cruising for parking causes congestion and emissions. Keep your incandescent bulbs and demand rational parking pricing instead. Fixing on-street parking in Toronto is easily the biggest free-lunch Mayor Miller can have with respect to green house gases. He’d be Canada’s greenest Mayor ever.

Mr. Ashton is not kidding when he says 50 cents is a bargain. But it is also an enormous rip-off of the livability and accessibility in our greatly congested City. Nothing to celebrate there, Councilor.

Pricing needs to be set to consider the convenience and cost payoff. You cannot underprice the convenient on-street spaces and expect people to use off-street parking.

So you ask: what should the increase be?

It should NOT be a simple increase, it should be a full rationalization. There are places all over the city that are correctly priced already. I park in a little GreenP near Woodbine for $4 (all day!) and take the TTC for $5. Total $9 and about the same travel time (I go pre-rush hour). I take my car in twice a week and park for $15 at an IMPARK. So I save $7 (gas is $1) when I park and ride. If the proposed parking increase hits that little lot, I expect the differential to be more like $5. You know for those $5, I’ll give the money to IMPARK. Why? My car. My music. My cell phone. I can talk to myself. I can watch women walking by.

You see IMPARK knows that, that’s how they can demand that price. Maybe the CFO of IMPARK should be our next mayor.

There are two ways to raise parking prices in Toronto.

The wrong way is a flat, regressive, lazy-minded, revenue-grabbing, across-the-board 50 cents. (Yes, there are the “Lake Shore” exceptions to the proposal, but that’s insufficient.)

The right way is to [1] lower and advertise prices in places where there’s under-demand (you would not know that my favorite lot is 50 cents per hour unless you actually drove in to see), [2] leave prices alone where there is about 85% peak-average demand and [3] and raise them in places where peak-average demand is in excess of 85%.

And there are a lot of streets in Toronto where peak-average demand exceeds 85%. A lot. And 50 cents doesn’t cut it. Some of those streets need $5 per hour – maybe more, but not $3.50. Toronto has departments full of traffic engineers and some of those understand Transport Demand Management very well. Why do we pay to keep this staff, but not consult them? There could not be a single TDM person in the GTA would promote this 50 cents across-the-board wasted opportunity. For the same $1M (or maybe $1.5M) you could rationalize on-street parking, reduce emissions, and raise at least twice the additional revenue for the City.

Politicians: When someone is too lazy, in too much of a hurry, or wearing high-heels (which covers at least 93% of the motorist population), they little care whether it is $3.50 or $5.00 per hour. They will pay for the convenience, safety and time-saving.

In his Globe article, Jeff Gray went on to report that Mr. Anderson said “another hike is unlikely for at least the next five years.” Since this proposal is so wrong, the real problem of parking pricing will require revisiting the following year – as will the City’s financial woes, of course. Since Mr. Anderson is leaving his post, the new executive can break Mr. Anderson’s promise for him. I certainly hope he does so soon.

We really need Toronto politicians to smarten up and structure user-fees to manage access and resources, to curb emissions and congestion. Not to raise revenues.

AND, I guarantee if you priced properly you will accomplish much more, including far more revenue. Toronto parking revenue can be tripled, and access to parking can be improved while reducing congestion to a modest degree – all at the same time.


If you are interested in understanding why parking rates that are not market balanced are detrimental to your city (causing congestion, emissions, lost time for motorists, and lost business to store owners), you need to read more of what Donald Shoup has to say about it. You can borrow his book from the Toronto library. No Urbanist should overlook this book.

1 comment:

Peter said...

Toronto just doesn’t get it.
I live in the 905, moved there 5 years ago from Toronto to get away from the anti business climate. 5 years a go, the last time I visited Toronto, I found it dirty bums on the streets asking for money scarey enough I didn’t go out at night. Here’s the real reason I never came back, parking was expensive the meters offered no relief as they gave you only a limited time. There’s, street bumps in the middle of major streets, causing congestions and mayhem.(not to mention dangerous as it slows down essential services, fire trucks ECT..)(here’s a concept lets get traffic moving) Tow truck operators on the go waiting to pounce on your car.(I know because I was over by 1 min., my watch was slow)
I think, instead of trying to drive away people, they should look at how to bring them in and increase revenue. Simple things could be done, Hamilton for example has free parking on the weekends this brings in business, as it’s traditionally slower on the weekends.
Yes no regrets taxes are lower, and I have no reason, or want to go there anymore. Funny thing something TO hasn’t picked up on, the 905 has all the new businesses and the 416'rs are now starting to go there for the jobs. I’m afraid, in time the inner city will core itself out, much like some of the large US city’s have (can we say slums.)