The High Cost of Free Parking

Sometimes I think city councillors are pretty smart and aware. Other times, I’m not so sure. Mind, it can be hard to tell which it is.

As 2017 came to a close, some Ottawa Councillors are mooting about obligatory inclusion of visitor parking costs to all residents of  apartment or townhouse locations, regardless of their usage (or non-usage) of the parking spaces. Of course, in an election year they package it up as being “free parking”.

I guess it isn’t enough that minimum parking requirements already increase every residents costs by jacking up the cost of construction and maintenance. At least here in Ontario we let the residents who use the parking spaces pay for them separately. If you don’t want parking you generally save some of the cost of providing the parking. Some other jurisdictions require the spaces to be included in the base rent, whether the resident wants one (or two…) or not.

Visitor parking is also subject to the site plan approval process. Prior to now, I gather the city has not regulated the pricing for those spaces. Some property owners/managers (and this includes condo boards) are then faced with managing those spaces. The last time I lived in an apartment building, the “visitors” lot usually had the same cars in it day after day. Or should I say night after night. Tenants could avoid renting a parking lot space by keeping their roomie/boyfriend/girlfriend off the lease and thus parking free in the visitors lot. After a snowfall, some cars remained covered for days.

A condo I know of on Parkdale Avenue used to have a drive-in visitor lot. But then an adjacent condo started telling prospective buyers that they could park in the lot next door (the new condo was approved with visitor parking, but then got approval to sell many of those spaces to residents). A gate and connection to the annunciator was required at considerable expense to the old condo to keep out other people’s visitors.

It makes sense to me to then cover the costs of providing parking, as well as the opportunity cost of using urban space for surface parking, by charging the users for parking.

A certain west end restaurant I frequent is quite popular with other people too. When I walk in from the bus stop or park my bike, I can see their parking lot is often full. Ahh, but right next door, no fence separating them, is the visitor lot for an apartment building. Thus the charge to visitors of the apartment building:

Now that restaurant is going to be replaced by a tall apartment building, and later relocate back to the ground floor. Will it provide garage or structured parking for free ? (at $40,000/space to construct, and $20-40 per space per month in city taxes, plus depreciation and expensive repairs to salt damage down the line)  Or should I say, will the cost of that parking be hidden in everybody’s meal prices, even for folks like me who get there by transit or bike? Only a few retail businesses in Ottawa charge for visitor parking. MEC comes to mind, and the Rideau Centre, and more recently the City Centre Parking lot. But generally motorists expect someone else to provide them with free parking.

I live around the corner from Plant Recreation complex. It has a surface parking lot. Free visitor parking. Adjacent it, on-street parking is user-paid parking. That asphalt surface parking lot replaced a tot lot and playground space that had mature trees,  but hey, city parks mean city parking, eh ! And we’ll just ignore the nearby businesses that are plagued by spill over parking by pool users who steal their free parking spaces from business customers, and we’ll ignore the business employees that work at nearby places sans employee/customer parking, who park at the city rec facility all day for free. And don’t forget those seekers of free parking who are slowly eroding away green space near Westboro Station into an ever-expanding free parking lot.

What a tangled mess we weave when politicians and bureaucrats decide that some people shall park for free, and some shall contribute to the costs. And then taxes everyone else to provide and maintain the hundreds of thousands of parking spaces around the city it gives to motorists for free! Transit users, however, shall pay at the door, thank you.

I do note that Toronto Community Housing charges for visitor parking. With this precedent, maybe OCH could do the same, rather than demolishing affordable townhouses to provide surface parking lots (because providing any parking in a garage under their newest building is “too expensive”…).

To review. Basic parking rules:

  • if its free, it’s likely to be abused.
  • nothing is free, someone is paying
  • someone always games the system to make someone else pay, and that someone else usually isn’t the 1% or even the 10%.
  • residents on residential streets are also paying bigly for “free on-street parking” , they just cannot see the bill

And yeah, I’ve suggested on numerous occasions to the city that it should provide and charge for secure bike parking at transit stations and the new library (that doesn’t mean there cannot also be less-secure ring post parking too). Other places do, and there seems to be a good take up of secure bike lockers.

I’d much prefer if Councillors took their fingers out of the visitors parking lot debate.






4 thoughts on “The High Cost of Free Parking

  1. Interesting that this is a wide-spread problem. I’m on the board of directors for a housing co-operative in your neighbourhood, and we have two visitor parking spots. We are having a big problem with the neighbouring privately-owned town homes telling their guests they can use our guest parking, and this summer we had an issue with a construction company working on a private home using those parking spots too. And don’t get me started about Bluesfest…. Perhaps making those paid spots is the way to go.

  2. I think in any areas where there is paid on-street parking the visitor parking should all be public and should be managed by the city under the same regime as the on street parking. If the local restaurant or store wants to provide their customers with free parking then they can provide a one-time code on the receipt that the customer can punch into the city parking meter to get their money back. Something like that could be simply a matter of a software upgrade and it would expand the effective amount of on street parking and give a revenue source for stores and restaurants that provide the parking spaces for people who don’t actually buy anything at their store. It would also provide stores that don’t have any parking a way to effectively give their customers free parking.

  3. Get a towing company on speed dial if your spots are being abused.

    As for City parking in #Autowa, we need to start charging everywhere, and to increase rates annually – tied to the increase in transit prices was a neat suggestion I saw online.

    Right now, we’re apply increasing indirect subsidies to car drivers, at a time when the city’s purse is getting tight.

  4. A large apartment also on parkdale near tunneys decided to reduce its visitor parking by several spaces and offered them at market cost to Tunney’s pasture workers a couple of years ago, they also reduced the size of the spaces. In the meantime, support workers and family members supporting many of the disabled residents (often daily) have to wait for a free space in which to park to perform their services. Taxi and uber drivers on down time also clog the remaining visitor spaces (virtually no parking on the street near tunneys), and while several also live in the building, they can’t be bothered returning to the underground spaces between rides. I don’t see a one size solution and doubt that city councillors would be able to find one either.

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