The hidden costs of parking
- In the Montreal Gazette, June 30:
There is no free parking
BY STUART DONAVAN AND DAVID SEYMOUR, FRONTIER CENTRE FOR PUBLIC
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-
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
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
© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette
Montreal QC Canada
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