Big Parking in the Big City
While driving in and around Toronto one cant help but notice the big green 'P' signs sticking out in select locations and the solar powered pay-and-display units aka parking meters standing neatly at attention in rows on every major street. In fact, if you need to stop somewhere to shop or visit you'll be hard pressed to find a parking spot anywhere without having to drop a few bucks into one of these machines.
Unless you're stopping at a shopping mall, High Park, or a plaza with its own customer parking, chances are high that you'll have to dig deep to feed one of Toronto Parking Authority's (TPA) 18,700 on-street machines or one of the 21,300 off-street spaces in 180 facilities which include 12 attended lots, 14 fully automated garages, and 168 unattended lots. These, not including the 13,800 spaces at the Toronto Transit Commission's (TTC) park and ride facilities or the over 2,000 parking spaces of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. 8 new parking facilities are currently being added to these numbers this year including one at Evergreen, formerly Don Valley Brickworks.
Better not forget the three-hour limit which exists on these street units so you'll either have to hurry or baby-sit the meter, otherwise risk a hefty parking ticket which will set you back a minimum of $30 if the meter expires.
In 2009, the City of Toronto issued 2,794,460 parking tickets through the Toronto Police Service (TPS) and Municipal Law Enforcement Officers (MLEO’s). MLEO’s are independent private agencies whose staff are trained and certified by the TPS to issue parking tickets on private or municipal property throughout the City of Toronto.
Of the almost 2.8 million tickets issued, 428,651 or 15.34% of these were cancelled for various reasons and 300,535 or 10.75% of parking ticket recipients requested a trial. 129,932 of those tickets went to trial and 102,661 or 79.01% received a conviction by the Justice of the Peace. Which means 455,922 or 16.32% of the parking tickets issued that year were essentially invalid and money wasted.
There are a number of pay lots scattered throughout the city as well as hospital parking which doesn’t display the big green P.
$4.00 for 20 minutes at one parking facility close to the Air Canada Centre while just up the street from there is a lot with a flat rate of $5.00.
Better hope you and you're loved ones don’t become ill. Hospital parking lots are not immune to these high prices. At Sunnybrook Hospital alone the cost to park range from $4.00 per half hour to $23.00 maximum between the hours of 6am to 12:30am. Which actually means you’ll be up to $23.00 in three hours. In my experience it’s rare to visit a hospital for less than three hours.
Big Business and the Monopoly
According to the City of Toronto's website, the TPA's mandate is to provide safe, attractive, conveniently located and competitively priced off and on-street public parking.
The TPA's website states, "Getting customers through the doors is critical for the success of any business. And that includes helping your customers find reasonably priced, easy parking."
Safe, attractive, and conveniently located? Maybe. Competitively priced off and on-street public parking? Reasonably priced? Everyone I've talked with disagrees.
"This is crazy" A woman told me while her husband fed money into a meter. "Everything is expensive here now".
Adding to the frustration the man didn’t have enough change and while waiting for more from his wife the machine spit the money back out and he was forced to start over. At the transactions end I was told they spent $10.00.
TPA metered spaces are either $1.00, $1.50, $2.00 or $3.50 per hour or half-hour depending on the area of the city in which they are located. Lots or garages can be as high as $2.25 per half hour.
They do however offer free on-street parking for motorcycles and scooters.
If the Toronto Parking Authority and the City of Toronto truly feel that "Getting customers through the doors is critical for the success of any business" then why not relax the rates somewhat to help the very people who are keeping this city's economy going? Especially during a time when there’s still the linger of economic uncertainty not to mention the constant pressure of raising fuel costs which in turn influences everything else.
Along with building a large and valuable property portfolio, the TPA has had 50 straight profitable years and made $44.315 million for the City of Toronto in 2010 alone and are expecting the same in 2011 which according to them is 75% of its annual net operating income.
The TPA receives no funding support from the city to operate. Financially, it is totally self-sufficient.
From a statement made by the TPA, "Parking rates are set at levels that foster the general objectives of the Authority which are based on general City objectives, namely to: Encourage downtown commuters to park at suburban carparks and transfer to the subway; Provide low cost short-term parking, mainly in neighbourhood and commercial areas; Discourage long-term parking, especially in downtown and mid-town commercial areas and commercial areas well served by transit; Generate sufficient revenue to cover minimum operating and administrative costs, and either recover past capital costs or allow for future capital costs."
"Our rate-setting policies support the City’s transportation management and transit initiatives. Off-street rates, for example, target the short-term user and are among Toronto’s lowest. Conversely, all-day rates in the downtown core are among the highest to promote alternative transit options. As a result, these facilities are predominantly used on a short-term basis."
Considering the TPA is partners with the TTC, the Toronto Police Service, and of course the City of Toronto, it's all good for everyone. Well, almost everyone. Not so good for the already cashed strapped consumer who pays daily for the privilege to live, work, and shop in this city. The citizen who has to pay large amounts daily to use a facility for parking because of his or her employment location. Or the father who just wants to take his family for an ice cream on the Danforth.
That same father also has a good chance of being unfortunate enough to live in a residence without a driveway or any other parking area and will have to dig even deeper and depending on the situation shell out either $13.15, $32.87, or $46.02 per month (not including HST) to the city's 'permit parking program'. This permit allows holders to "generally have the privilege of parking their vehicles overnight and are exempt from the 1, 2, and 3 hour parking restrictions", according the City of Toronto's website.
So how does Toronto compare to other cities?
To park in Hamilton it’ll cost you between $0.50 and $1.00 per hour at any one of their on-street parking meters which is free after 6 pm daily and all day Sunday and Statutory Holidays. They even provide a free grace period of 10 minutes after the paid time on the electronic meter has expired.
Some of Hamilton’s municipal car parks have an all-day-parking fee of only $3.00.
In our Nation’s Capital, parking rates are $0.25 for 6 minutes at all on-street meters and $0.25 for 10 minutes in all metered lots.
Short-term rates at downtown parking facilities are either $0.50 for 12 minutes or $0.50 for 20 minutes, depending on location.
Free parking is available on weekends at all city lots and meters located within the downtown core.
In Calgary you’ll pay anywhere from $1.25 per half hour to $4.00 per hour between 9:00am and 9:00pm except Saturdays when all on-street parking rates are $1.50 per hour. Sundays and holidays are free.
To park in one of Calgary’s lots or parades, fees range from FREE at some locations to $0.50 per half hour and up to $2.75 per half hour from 6:00am to 6:00pm during the week and $0.50 per half hour to a max of $2.00 on weekends and holidays.
Food For Thought
If everyone in the city stopped driving, could the public transit support the huge daily ridership the City of Toronto and the TPA seem to be pushing for? And if so, what then would come of the TPA?
Some people I’ve spoken with say they’ve already stopped going to certain places because of high parking rates and they won’t take the transit or “it’s just not worth taking the TTC“. Others have said they have little choice but if it gets much costlier they’ll look at other options.
One thing is for certain; the current transit system is struggling at best. It's very hard to envision the TTC accommodating much more ridership than it already has. One only needs to venture to Younge & Bloor subway stations during rush hour to witness the extreme overflow. This is a problem that seems to push people into driving and parking even more.