Park and Ride, here and there

There have been several stories in the media lately about park and ride lots here in Ottawa. The lots seem popular, and mostly over-used with late arrivals not being able to find a parking space. The first-come policy favours regular early morning commuters.

The Ottawa lots are free. Well, not exactly free. They cost a lot of money to build, maintain, and patrol. But our municipal government doesn’t charge the users anything. It is therefore not surprising that they are full, as they are being sold (given away) wa-a-a-y below cost and wa-a-a-a-y below value.

Things that are free are of course abused. I wonder how many more people we would be able to serve if the lots charged a parking fee? If it cost, say $5 or $10 per day to park, then there would be an incentive for neighbours to share a vehicle ride to the lot. A fee might then raise revenue and simultaneously serve more people. Of course the fee has to be set correctly, so that there are only a very few empty spaces in the lot (there has to be a few empty spaces so as to provide parking for anyone who shows up and is willing to pay, and to establish the correct market value for the lot. Sold out=underpriced. )

One of the recurring problems I see in our municipality is that we provide too many items for free. If roads are free, it is only natural to expect demand to increase. If we permit free parking on the vast majority of roads, it is only natural for adjacent property owners to demand more on-street parking and for the property owners to save the costs of supplying more spaces themselves or making better use of their existing supply of spaces.

We saw this in spades during the Laurier separated bike lane controversy where condo owners wanted taxpayers to provide cheap or free on-street parking because they chose not to (at the cost they would have to pay to provide off street parking) or because they preferred to stay with their existing inefficient models of allocating their scarce parking spots. Why supply parking themselves if the city will do it free?

We see this in the choice people make daily to purchase “cheaper” housing in exurbia and (not) pay for their road use rather than pay for more expensive housing in the city and not reap much personal gain from reduced road usage (more on this in a subsequent post),

We also see this in cases of road abuse, like Bronson Avenue, where the local residences and businesses are blighted in order to provide “free” roads for motorists going elsewhere. Yet to provide the alternative, public transit, suddenly hits the wall of cost recovery and user-pay that we don’t expect motorists to face.

When down in Boston recently, I parked my rental at the Quincy Adams MBTA stop. The transit station had its own exclusive freeway exit:

[stop taking the picture and get over into the right lane — ed.]

The station had a parking garage for 2378 cars, on multiple levels, in two garage buildings that shared a covered courtyard/atrium with escalators, stairs, elevators, ticket booth, etc:.

A centre platform arrangement was well sheltered from the wind and rain by the high roof made of translucent plastic corrugated panels:

Users who looked away from the garage could actually see abundant greenery poking into the building:

For the convenience of passengers, a sign illuminates and automated announcements notify people in the station of approaching trains:

At a time when municipal finances are stretched, I wonder at the merit of giving things away for free. Suburban parking is not a conspicuous win-win situation; an argument can be made that it is facilitating exurban growth contrary to the city’s stated OP, and of course, the large surface lots cover large areas of land whereas parking structures can put more vehicles on less space. But parking garages are “too expensive” only if the spaces are being given away free. The parking lots themselves discourage walk in traffic and Transit Oriented Development.

Oh, another interesting tidbit about Quincy Adams: the station has its own freeway exit because it serves a large, low density catchment area. It is designed to be not possible to walk to the station from any direction. The “other side” of the station (opposite the parking garage) is a residential area that used to have a pedestrian walk-in to the station, but commuters parked there all day, drove too fast on the residential streets, and the entrance was closed. Now the locals have to drive miles to the station which is only accessible by vehicle from the freeway. As our fair city continues to promote mixed-use land development, this is a problem we will see much more of in coming years.


4 thoughts on “Park and Ride, here and there

  1. How dare you suggest suburbanites pay for the costs they’ve dumped on urbanites for years.

    Next you’ll advocate congestion pricing for roads, parking taxes in the city, and other common-sense ways to force users to pay for the infrastructure they use.

  2. Wouldn’t charging for park ‘n ride lots encourage people to drive all the way downtown and park there instead? After all, if they’re going to have to pay for parking anyway, they might as well skip this inconvenience of paying, trying to find a parking spot, getting out of a warm car in the middle of a blizzard to go huddle on a platform…

  3. I tend to sit on the side that we may loose choice riders by forcing them to pay. However, if you can show that certain parking lots actually have the demand to accept a parking charge than go ahead. I suspect that the reason the lots are full is that it is free. We also do not know the true demand on the lots for example, the drivers that complain about not having enough parking are they few or are there hundreds? If it is high number than that lot should be charged if not we will certainly loose choice riders.

  4. While I agree with you in principle, I think you’ve stumbled onto a disadvantage of charging for parking: you’ve overlooked the lenghts to which motorists will go to avoid paying.

    Why do you think people were parking in the adjacent residential neighbourhood instead of the garage? Probably because they have to pay to park in the garage, but parking in the neighbourhood was free.

    Now, the solution to ensure a continued stream of parking revenue for the garage has also eliminated any possibility of pedestrian access to the station. I don’t think this was a healthy trade-off.

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