Millions of Dollars in Free Parking

I live on the east side of Toronto, a dozen blocks from the Greenwood subway entrance. Last Friday, I wanted to lunch with a friend at Islington and Bloor. To take my car would cost me about $8.00 in gas, lease, and wear. Rather than drive, it made sense to park my car a block or two away from the Greenwood station and use the subway. It would be at least as fast (it was midday), it would be cheaper given Gaddafi gas prices, I would get a couple of blocks of exercise, and I could read a book about traffic congestion (a personal obsession) on the train.

Four superb and completely selfish reasons.

Pleased with my plan, I drove off. When I got near the Greenwood station, the nearest street was marked one-hour parking. Made sense — can’t have tons of folks like me crowding out these local residents. I went North to the next street. One-hour parking. And the next one, too. So I went up one more and finally ended up parking four blocks north of the Coxwell station in the wrong direction. I had in essence “cruised” an extra 1.5 km looking for free parking while passing well over 100 empty one-hour spaces — I figured I needed three hours in total and did not wish to risk a $30 ticket.

These one-hour spaces, on all the residential streets three or four blocks on either side of our subway lines—and around other major facilities that are either poorly or expensively served by parking lots (the East Toronto hospital is one example)—form radii of parking spaces constrained to one-hour parking to prevent abuse. Makes sense. Or does it?

The great majority of these one-hour spaces remain empty after the residents leave for work and until they return home. If left unmanaged, they would be filled by freeloaders— such as me—who would leave their car in front of a stranger’s house and take public transportation to save $10 or $20 in downtown parking fees. One can argue that having people who live a couple of kilometers from a subway station use one of these residential areas and take subway rather than drive downtown (I know many who do this) would do three things: (1) reduce vehicle kilometers traveled for all such commute trips; (2) put more riders on the subway; and (3) raise revenue to help maintain the streets and sidewalks of those residential areas—thereby reducing the property-tax demand for those residents.

I would have been happy to pay $.50 or $.75 an hour for a spot a block away from Greenwood—more if the weather was crappy. The city has an opportunity here, to manage those spaces for the benefit of the residents living there, and for the benefit of Torontonians who live less close to the subway. Benefits include: increased transit use, lower emissions, less congestion, saving money for drivers, reducing property tax demands for the residents affected. The only losers in this are the downtown parking garages. But if the scheme I am about to describe were operated by Toronto Parking Authority’s GreenP, then the TPA would not need to lose a nickel.

How to do it
In order to execute such a scheme, participating vehicles must be self-metered and self-enforced. The reason is the city can ill afford to add new curbside parking meters or new signage , or a new army of parking enforcement officers. As it is now, these one-hour parking areas must be visited twice to apply tire-marking enforcement methods—a very expensive matter—which leads to a strategy of occasional spot-enforcement anyway (I get ticketed maybe once in ten for violating these restrictions).

Such self-managed meters already exist. Using a new technology called financial-grade GPS, they use a completely private method of determining the correct parking fee based on an internal parking “price-map”. Each meter is unique to a participating vehicle, pays parking monthly either on a debit or credit bases and never reveals the location of the vehicle to any party other than the driver. (There is a 100% driver-private way for the parking operator to audit the system—no person can get to know where a spouse is parked since location data does not leave the vehicle).

So a commuter who wished to park in one of these areas would affix a meter, which is the size of smartphone, on her windshield behind the rearview mirror. A small indicator lamp shows that the meter is working so that a parking enforcement officer can safely ignore any legally parked vehicle (blocking driveways and fire-hydrants are citable matters, of course). The absence of a lit indicator lamp that shows a device that is tampered or nonoperational, and such vehicles would receive citations exactly as though they had no meter—no need to get Draconian over tampering a device you volunteered to put in your own vehicle!

Parking officers who enforce these one-hour free parking areas would do exactly what they always do, while simply ignoring any correctly parked vehicle with a correctly flashing indicator lamp.

Participating commuters may prepay or post pay as the city may prefer. In fact both could be offered.

Lest this appear somewhat complicated for a few million dollars and a few hundred thousand parking spots that may be 20% or 30% utilized, consider that this same technology can manage residential parking reducing the fees for residents who may park less on their streets when they travel or when they put their car in their driveway or who may agree pay to park on another residential street to visit late or overnight. Consider that the same technology can manage any street parking—later on. Consider that any participating commuter who drives a hybrid for all electric vehicle could be given a 20% discount when using Toronto Parking Authorities facilities (the technology works for garages as well).

But the most powerful single value for self-enforced time and place-based parking meters is the management innovation of Dave Hill (until recently Chief Operating Officer, Winnipeg Parking Authority). Calling it “Graduated Parking”, he set up a pilot that permitted the use of on-street parking to extend beyond the initial two-hour limit of participating parkers who were willing to pay an increasing fee for each 15-minute parking time slice. This method even permits the first hour to be free, if the City wishes to grandfather this privilege.

With prices appropriately designed, parkers who stay beyond a normal one, two or three hour limit will pay a slightly heftier fee for the extra time, but being self enforced will require no citation. This permits the city’s parking enforcement staff to manage more square miles of onstreet parking with the same staff contingent while reducing city court costs and increasing revenues—revenues that are needed for our streets and sidewalks...

...revenues that can help keep a lid on Toronto residential property taxeswhich is in line with Mayor Ford’s promise to hold the line on property taxes.