Fraser Forum

Market pricing should apply to parking in all congested areas in Vancouver

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Two cheers for the City of Vancouver for proposing market pricing for parking in the congested West End on the basis of an excellent staff report. No cheers, though, for developers and others who plead for lower parking requirements.

But what’s not to like about reducing parking requirements? Developers can reduce their costs by getting rid of them. Buyers will gain when builders pass on some of the benefits. Developers also argue that the decline of car-use means less parking will be needed in the future.

Here is the downside.

The lack of in-building parking in congested areas such as the West End pushes car owners onto local streets. Many residential towers are already surrounded by clogged streets. So are areas where houses have been converted into multiple dwellings and where infill housing has been added.

Developers and residents manage to escape on-site parking costs by pushing the costs onto the public at large—people shopping at local stores, dining at restaurants or attending nearby theatres. In Vancouver’s West End, for example, visitors take 10 minutes and drive an extra three kilometres to find a space to park—hardly a green outcome. Insufficient parking also threatens the business of local merchants.

Municipal governments add to the pressures by giving local residents preferential treatment. Vancouver currently has 23 neighbourhoods where residents can apply for special parking privileges. In some areas, local residents are not subject to the same time limits as visitors whereas in others, parking is reserved entirely for local residents. Permits for these privileges cost from $38 to $76 per year, depending on the area. These parking areas account for the majority of residential blocks in some parts of the city.

With on-street parking costing $3 to $6 a month compared to off-street parking costing $50 or more, it’s not surprising that many residents choose to park cheaply on the street. In effect, they are confiscating public street parking for their own use at the expense of other citizens and with the blessings of the city.

Crowded street parking contrasts with on-site parking in residential buildings. Some buildings in Vancouver’s West End have more than 100 unused parking stalls. Developers, understandably, have objected to minimum parking requirements when so many of their parking stalls remain unused.

Unfortunately reducing the minimum requirements would worsen congestion in areas such as the West End. It would drive more resident parking onto the streets and create pressure on the city to expand resident-only zones. The problem is that the developers’ spaces must compete with lower-priced spaces on the street.

Vancouver earns its two cheers for its courage in proposing to raise West End parking fees a market rate of about $50 a month. Buyers and renters would then be willing to pay more for buildings that have adequate parking and developers would be able to charge more from offering parking. The spill over costs for others would be reduced.

Indeed, properly priced parking fees could make municipal rules governing parking stalls unnecessary. Different levels of street parking fees according to the degree of congestion would give developers leeway to tailor on-site parking to local needs.

Vancouver’s third cheer must still be held in reserve. It depends on whether the city will be able to realize the plan. Even though visitors, residents who do not own cars, and car owners who do not have permits, all support the change, 63 per cent of current permit holders oppose the change. Even though car owners make up just 20 per cent of residents, they will be vocal as they have the most to lose.

The city has tried to defuse opposition by exempting current permit holders from the higher fee. This has the potential to undermine the plan. Data in the report suggest that high permit turnover will make the exemptions short-lived as only one-in-five original permit holders remain after five years. These data, however, came from a time when residents knew they could get a permit whenever they wanted.

With the change, residents, who otherwise would not bother, may get permits at the low price to protect themselves in case they buy a second car or find a new roommate who needs parking. The city needs to modify the exemptions, possibly by phasing in higher fees, otherwise the benefits will be long delayed.

The city has also ducked the claim that the plan is just a cash grab. Wisely it will direct any additional revenues to support local initiatives.

While the West End’s parking problems may be the most severe, many parts of Vancouver suffer from the congestion. The city will only earn the final cheer when market pricing applies fully to West End and extends to other congested areas.


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