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11415The hidden costs of parking

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  • Christopher Miller
    Jul 2, 2009
      In the Montreal Gazette, June 30:

      There is no free parking

      POLICYJUNE 30, 2009

      Municipal regulations require that urban developments provide on-site

      These regulations seem innocuous and receive little attention in
      public-policy discussions, but they do in fact have serious
      consequences. They stimulate urban sprawl, encourage excessive use of
      cars, create inequitable social outcomes, reduce housing affordability
      and suppress economic development.

      Wiping parking regulations from municipal planning codes across Canada
      is arguably the most urgent policy reform Canada's municipalities can

      In the middle of the last century, transport engineers focused on
      delivering free-flowing car travel. Parking regulations required
      developers to set aside a portion of their property for parking to
      ensure that drivers looking for parking spaces did not create undue
      congestion and delay other road users.

      Parking regulations are politically palatable because they improve
      driver convenience by including the cost of parking in the overall
      cost of development. This is indeed the root of the problem – parking
      is not free; the cost is merely hidden.

      Today, 90 per cent of private vehicle trips in North America end in a
      “free” parking space. It is not free, however, when one considers
      the valuable urban land used to provide it.

      Municipal parking regulations are extremely land intensive and very
      costly as a result. Developers who build banquet halls in Richmond,
      B.C., for example, are required to provide up to four square metres of
      parking for every metre of hirable banquet space. The result is that
      everyone pays more for banquet space.

      The cost of parking can be substantial. The Toronto Parking Authority
      estimated that the cost of providing a single parking space could be
      up to $40,000. U.S. researchers estimated that parking subsidies are
      several times the price of gas used by cars.

      Perhaps the most insidious characteristic of parking regulations is
      their self-reinforcing nature that progressively molds the urban
      landscape into a gigantic parking lot. By taking up land, parking
      spots reduce density and make car travel more appealing, which leads
      to – surprise, surprise – greater demand for parking.

      In these ways parking regulations have contributed to more, rather
      than less, congestion. As with many public policies, the effect of
      minimum-parking regulations varies depending upon income.

      These regulations almost certainly steal from the poor and give to the
      rich. A low-income earner is likely to spend a larger portion of this
      money on basic goods and services that build in the cost of parking.
      Supermarkets, for example, recoup the cost of parking in their grocery
      prices. Low-income earners are more likely to carpool, use public
      transit, walk or cycle, so they are less likely to benefit from the
      parking they are forced to subsidize.

      The cost of higher density housing is inflated by parking regulations.
      Because the cost of parking is built in to the cost of other goods,
      people are less likely to make use of alternatives to the drive-and-
      park lifestyle.

      Car pooling, public transit, telecommuting, car sharing and online
      shopping reduce the demand for parking, but consumers have no
      incentive to choose these options because the cost of parking is built
      in regardless.

      One scholar called minimum-parking regulations a “disastrous
      substitute for millions of individual decisions . . . about how much a
      parking space is worth.”

      In aggregate, parking regulations amount to a vast misdirection of
      economic resources. Unlike many deregulation initiatives, the removal
      of minimum-parking regulations does not need to be sudden or
      disruptive. If parking regulations were removed today, Canada's urban
      areas would adapt slowly over years with new developments having only
      small impacts on the overall demand for parking.

      Instead of regulating the supply of parking, municipalities would need
      to shift focus to managing demand for parking, which they can do
      through the use of time-limits and ultimately prices.

      A deregulated parking supply is crucial to ensuring that Canada's
      urban areas are able to tackle current economic and environmental
      challenges. If Canada's planners are truly committed to economic
      growth, sustainability and livable communities, they should first
      focus on making sure existing regulations do not surreptitiously
      undermine these urban objectives.

      It is time we realized parking is not free and instead implemented
      simple regulatory reforms that allow developers, businesses and
      consumers to manage their demand for parking in a more effective manner.

      Stuart Donavan is the author of the Frontier Centre for Public Policy
      report How Free is Your Parking?

      David Seymour is senior policy analyst at the Frontier Centre for
      Public Policy.

      © Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

      Christopher Miller
      Montreal QC Canada


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