Park ‘n’ Ride

On February 17, there was a big announcement of cash from the province and Ottawa that would go into the construction of parking structures at 12 GO stations. If you missed the story, you can read about it here. Aside from the numbers not exactly adding up correctly, the subject started quite a heated discussion on Steve Munro’s website up until comments were closed off this morning.

I am posting this to start a discussion on just how much parking at transit stations is appropriate, and who should pay for it. Ideally, investment should be made in better local connections to stations.  It seems to me that the whole “must have more subways” movement is based on pushing rapid transit out as far as possible to everybody’s home, and when we can’t give everyone a stop at their front door, we will build them a parking spot so that they can drive to the nearest station.

My position has been to use LRT at the ends of subway lines to extend the reach of higher-order transit to far more people over a greater area. One of my arguments for this has been to reduce the overall number of parking spots needed. More people will be closer to a station, both those within walking distance and those within a short bus connection.

The strongest argument in favour of extending subways is the “one seat ride”. Ironically, this is not a one seat ride for most, as they will still have to get to the subway station. Some will take a bus (or two), but many will take their car. It strikes me that there is likely more time lost in getting into one’s car (after warming it up and/or taking it out of the garage) and driving to the subway station, finding a parking spot, walking from the spot all the way to the station entrance, then down to the platform. Of course, the time of the drive makes the difference. If the drive were only a few minutes, a bus would likely be quicker. Since a subway extension will not reach as far, many will have a drive time more than a few minutes and therefore taking one’s car will likely be quicker.

The other aspect up for discussion is issue of who pays? Parking spots cost money to build. Land is always needed, and if we’re talking about parking structures, there is the construction cost. Providing the parking for free means the money has to come from somewhere else. Fares and taxes that provide funds to operate the transit system are covering. Some would say the drivers should pay for their own parking. The other side of the argument is that in many other situations, customers of a business either get free parking, or where parking is not free, the businesses they patronize often will validate parking to give them either free or reduced cost parking, so why shouldn’t this apply to transit?

The TTC recently started charging for using its lots where previously it was free for Metropass holders. I have heard stories, though have never seen any figures to back this up, that a “significant number” of people purchased Metropasses in order to park for free at Finch station. The cost of a Metropass being less than the cost of parking in surrounding lots.

GO has free parking at their lots. I have heard it suggested that their parking should have a small cost while their fares should be lower. Perhaps the solution is to begin charging significant fees for parking, while implementing a fare integration scheme across the GTA that includes GO (time to plug my fare integration suggestions). Making it less costly and easier to move across the GTA, using whatever transit operators that are most convenient without extra cost, lessens the need for parking.

Practices in other cities vary. In Denver and Dallas, parking is free at stations with parking available. In Pittsburgh, parking lots are free but spaces in a parking structure (only at South Hills Village - 2200 spaces) costs $2 per day or $22 per month.

So, what is an appropriate amount of parking and what fee should be charged?

3 Responses to “Park ‘n’ Ride”

  1. W. K. Lis Says:

    I was working in the New Jersey a few years ago and whenever I went into New York City on the weekends using the train, I would park my rental car in a parking garage for free before boarding the train. On a weekday, one would have had to pay if they wanted to park their car at the garage..
    The same should be for GO stations. Free on weekends, but pay a small fee on weekdays.

  2. Leo Petr Says:

    Free parking is subsidized parking. It’s always provided at a loss. There is nothing wrong with subsidies per se, but we would obviously want to subsidize either everyone or just people in lower income brackets. Subsidizing a middle or upper income bracket would seem unorthodox to me.

    I may be mistaken, but my impression is that the majority of people in lower income brackets in Toronto tend to not drive. They might in the States, but in Toronto we have sufficient transit coverage for walking+buses to be a good economical way of getting to and from the subway.

    Therefore, subsidies for parking would tend to benefit the middle middle class at the expense of everyone else. This makes no sense to me. It would be better to charge for parking (largely unused by people in the lower income brackets) and lower fares for transit (used by everyone in all walks of life).

    There are always exceptions, but this is something where the average case certainly has more bearing than the exceptions.

  3. Andrew F Says:

    I crunched some numbers on this when I first heard about it, and it worked out to an approximate cost of $8 a day per parking spot, provided they lasted forever without any maintenance/overhead. In other words, to give it away for free is a travesty, or every rider should get an $8 credit for not driving a vehicle to the station. It would like pay to offer front-door shuttle service at those prices.

    Other businesses give away parking for free on the assumption of turnover (15-20x per day or more). Parking spots at transit stations have low turnover (1.3x if you’re very lucky).

    The $170 million is an utter waste. There are much more beneficial projects to be funded.

    Cal’s comment: $170 million buys about 3.5 km of LRT lines (in concrete medians - or just over 5 km if on a ballasted tie right of way) taking the network that much closer to a lot of people. Alternatively, it can buy quite a number of new buses for the feeder services.