Transportation

Bratina: Raise Municipal Parking Rates to Support Transit

By Ryan McGreal
Published November 25, 2009

this blog entry has been updated

At tomorrow's Council meeting, City Councillor Bob Bratina (Ward 2, downtown) will bring forward a motion proposing that the city's Parking Operations services raise parking rates across municipally-owned parking facilities - starting with curbsite meters - and use the revenue to maintain HSR transit fares at current levels.

In email correspondence with Raise the Hammer, Bratina pointed out, "[Transit] ridership and parking are integrally linked and monthly parking rates should not be cheaper than bus passes."

His motion, which notes, "parking meter rates in Hamilton are 30 percent of comparative municipalities", also calls on the Municipal Parking System to "prepare a Real Estate rationalization report of the city's Downtown Core parking lots with a view to creating new development opportunities." The idea is that many of the City's downtown parking facilities sit on strategic properties that should be developed rather than maintained as surface parking.

Bratina argues that under the current arrangement, private parking lots "have to suppress their prices because of what they consider the practices of tax-supported lots which they feel is unfair competition" - in other words, if the city raises its municipal parking rates, the city won't simply price itself out of the market, since the current low prices actually reflect artificially low rates charged by the city.

Economics of Parking

Economist Donald Shoup argues in his planning text The High Cost of Free Parking that free or cheap parking rates are a false economy that produces many perverse and harmful side-effects, including increased traffic, reduced economic vitality, and low-density, low-value development.

Shoup concludes cities should eliminate zoning requirements for off-street parking, end free municipal parking, and charge whatever price will maintain about 15 percent vacancy - the optimal rate to ensure easy entry and exit. To balance variable demand against a fixed supply, he recommends setting different prices according to time of day and day of week.

The benefits are potentially tremendous: with less parking, there is more room for both people and businesses, and the right balance between supply and demand means less congestion from "cruising" for spots, less noise, and less air pollution.

Reduced parking requirements also reduce barriers to entry for investors who might otherwise build elsewhere. As the area becomes more appealing to pedestrians, it attracts both visitors and investors.

Evidence from cities that have followed Shoup's recommendations is strongly supportive, seeing increased revenues and new private investment.

In Hamilton's case, free/cheap parking and mandatory parking requirements are at the centre of a vicious circle of disinvestment. The more the city tries to add parking, the more real destinations are destroyed to make room, and the less incentive people have to bother going downtown at all.

Update - Councillor Bratina just informed me that he has not yet presented this motion:

I held off presenting my motion last night at the request of staff who are offering some positive fine-tuning of the wording on the real estate piece. It will go forward at the next opportunity. I'm pleased that there is traction at the staff level for these initiatives.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 25, 2009 at 12:58:45

I'd prefer it if council deal with the issue of area rating first. THAT is the ultimate problem with transit funding right now, not whether someone plunks 50c vs 25c into a meter.

Furthermore, most meters in the entire city of Hamilton are located in the downtown/lower city. Again, council allows the suburbs to continue with the area rating system while looking to punish small businesses barely surviving on Hamilton's downtown streets.

I use transit all the time and it's convenient for me due to where I live.
For many folks in the city, transit is a nuisance. Higher parking meter rates downtown will only encourage some of those shoppers to stay out in the suburbs and park for free.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted November 25, 2009 at 14:25:26

More proof that personal automobile ownership as a transportation plan for a society is economically and ecologically unworkable.

It's damn-near a kilometre from the front door of Limeridge to the front door of the Toys R Us across the street. If Limeridge Mall or Meadowlands are the "successful retail centres" we're trying to emulate, then we're going to have to level another third of the core for surface parking. Take a look from above on Google Earth...if there isn't enough parking downtown, and we wish to keep any of the real estate (like, say, City Hall or the Armories), we're going to have to start stacking cars on their ends to make room. Those stretches of Wilson/Rebecca/King William where you can see for blocks on a Sunday all used to be homes and businesses...

A bus stop requires a few dozen yards of an otherwise useful lane of traffic and a post on the sidewalk, and the bus occupies it for moments at a time. A car, on the other hand, will sit there for all the time its owner(s) shop, work, eat or sleep, and prevents it's use as a bus stop. A bike, of course, can be locked to the pole on the sidewalk (or parking meter) and impedes other uses of neither.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted November 25, 2009 at 18:16:07

I challenge anyone to find lower parking meter rates anywhere in this country.

Are we an actual city or not?

Even as a cyclist 90% of the time, I'll drive occasionally because I know parking is so cheap. If I had to pay $1.50 an hour I'd certainly need a damned good reason to bring my car downtown!

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted November 25, 2009 at 18:52:05

seancb: I just paid 1.75 per hour at the lot across from central station.

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By jonathan dalton (registered) | Posted November 25, 2009 at 22:19:00

It's news to me that municipal lots are even in the same ballpark as the $3.50 all day parking offered by private lots. Whether that's true or not, anything the city can do to raise rates across the board is a good start. Eliminate the false economy and we can start to work on the real one.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted November 25, 2009 at 22:51:17

If the private lots charges 1.75 per hour, then it would cost 280.00 per month based on an 8 hour parking limit per day.

I wonder how people who drive for work downtwon would switch to transit?

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By g. (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2009 at 00:03:57

i really like this idea. and i don't take public transit and i pay for parking in a municipal lot downtown. it is ridiculous how cheap it is to park downtown. with a monthly pass it is $2 a day! and if you live downtown it is $1!

by the way, parking rates in the city lot i park in just went up by 20 percent last month and i still think raising rates is a good idea. just make sure they raise the assessments on private parking lots to reflect what the property would be worth if it had a fully occupied three or four storey building on it while they are at it. it should be more expensive to own a parking lot than the same size lot with a building on it. parking lots have huge social costs associated with them. otherwise it will be parking lots forever downtown for us. no one will develop property that they are making a killing parking cars on.

the more i think about it the stranger it is to me that the city even owns parking lots.

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By JonC (registered) | Posted November 26, 2009 at 05:02:28

He should include a clause enforcing the closure of illegal parking lots.

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By alrathbone (registered) | Posted November 26, 2009 at 09:30:29

It's interesting a certain member of what I call the "nay" squad hasn't jumped on board demanding we end the practice of the city undercutting private businesses, which is certainly a very valid argument for ending parking subsidies!

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted November 26, 2009 at 12:38:44

grassroots you should have parked at a meter on James street - 50 cents an hour!

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted November 26, 2009 at 12:53:48

I choose that particular parking lot because it was closest to the couple of places I was walking to.

I am just astonished by the different prices given all the lots around. Shouldn't it be more uniformed?

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By kdslote (registered) | Posted November 26, 2009 at 13:43:42

Raising parking rates sounds like a great plan! Unless transit is a more economical option than personal automibiles, it won't be successful and will continue to lose money.

FYI - A huge swath of land at the corner of Ferguson and Barton is about to be paved over to create yet another massive surface parking lot. Take a look at an aerial of this area, the amount of surface parking is already horendous!! This must be stopped!!!

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By Henry and Joe (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2009 at 17:44:45

I agree with g. above. The private parking lots are the real problem. I agree that meter prices are lower than in other cities, but the problem is complex. Downtown retailers have been fighting a losing battle with places like Meadowlands, Limeridge and Mapleview. Punishing the remaining people who do go downtown with increased municipal rates is not the answer. We need to do two things -1) Temporarily give three hours free parking in the York parkade to allow for people to park and shop without enabling private lot owners to continue to hold us hostage in our own city. 2) Increase the taxes on privately owned parking lots in order to discourage this type of activity that is hindering redevelopment.

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By Beasley (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2009 at 21:56:04

kdslote >> "FYI - A huge swath of land at the corner of Ferguson and Barton is about to be paved over to create yet another massive surface parking lot. Take a look at an aerial of this area, the amount of surface parking is already horrendous!! This must be stopped!!!"

Yes, a parking lot for Hamilton General Hospital is planned for that site.

Perhaps if the city tried harder to provide good public transit and walkable, friendly streets rather than five-lane one-lane highways, hospital workers might actually decide to live near the hospital and pay taxes in Hamilton rather than in Burlington. In that case, the hospital might become a nucleus for revitalization of that neighbourhood rather than a reason for spreading asphalt on it.

I write this as a health care professional who lives near and sometimes works at HGH. But I'm not surprised that I'm a small minority. Most women (and many men) didn't particularly like walking outside the hospital late at night even before this happened.

The underlying problem is Wilson, Cannon, Wellington, and Victoria streets, which both scare away pedestrian and bicycle traffic and make it way too easy to drive to the hospital.

One-way conversion, a light rail stop near HGH, and a GO station on the CN line in the north end would all help to decrease the demand for parking in this area. (Imagine people commuting _to_ Hamilton by train rather than the other way around!)

I agree that a parking lot on that land is a terrible idea. As Kyle suggested in the Beasley neighbourhood meeting last night, the city should take this opportunity to connect Robert St. to Ferguson and Cathcart to Barton. Robert and Cathcart right now form a crescent that runs from Wellington to Cannon without hooking up with any other streets. "The best place to raise a child", indeed.

If Robert could somehow be extended through Ferguson to Elgin (maybe across the back of the Beer Store parking lot), it would create a nice pedestrian/bicycle route across Beasley, which currently has none. (King William and Rebecca sort of count, but when you reach James St. they both end abruptly at Jackson Square.) Robert/Mulberry/Central Park would form a continuous bike route from Emerald to Hess -- which apparently is planned to become a two-way street sometime this century.

The irony that our regional cardiac/stroke hospital is driving (pardon the pun) this sort of car-centric development needs hardly be mentioned. Again, although I'm somewhat biased, I don't see this as primarily the hospital's fault. The planning decisions that are creating the demand for parking were made by the city.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 26, 2009 at 22:23:24

the entire lower city has been geared around cars which is why we need more two-way conversions, less car lanes, more bike lanes, functional sidewalks (ie - more than 1 person can fit on it) LRT priority lanes/signals etc.... then we'd start functioning like a normal city instead of a high speed freeway ramp to nowhere.

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By ward 2 (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2009 at 03:44:20

Looks like Bratina's trying to help bring business to his crony's illegal parking lots.

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By Leslie (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2009 at 16:09:46

What a crock!!! Bratina is a joke. Why doesn't he help decrease my taxes through area rating rather than trying to create diversions to his loyalty to the suburbs with this pathetic attempt in pretending to govern!! The real problem is the person known as Bob Bratina and his ineptitude the past 10 years in fixing the core. Stick to your day job or better yet hurry up and run against Christopherson so we can get you out of public life!!!

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By Ward 2 Watchdog (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2009 at 21:29:51

Hey Hey! Ho Ho! Bob Bratina has got to go!!! I say Dave Kuruc for Ward 2 Councillor!!!

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By sally (registered) | Posted November 27, 2009 at 22:33:13

I'd be happy to support the anyone but Bratina campaign in 2010. His position on area rated impacts me directly and I can't believe I was fooled in believing Bratina had a brain. Dave if your reading this please please run against this Bratina fool for the sake of the uban residents he has turned his back on.

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By whatup? (anonymous) | Posted November 28, 2009 at 14:16:39

Why all the Bob-hate? One bad call and the cybermob is out with torches and pitchforks. Or maybe it's just one crank posting from multiple pseudonames.

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By Frank 2010 (anonymous) | Posted November 28, 2009 at 20:45:04

I think people are just realizing how much of a flake Bratina is and his recent decisions and some past pen throwing might have something to do with it. The straw that broke the camels back is the area rating issue but his friendship with Moody and Vranic who are up on corruption charges is disturbing at best. Nothing to redeeming about this man when you look beyond his superficial persona

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted November 30, 2009 at 04:24:22

off topic people, sorry, but message to

Councillor Bratina: Word from the trenches is that those who are on ODSP are being denied access to the Christmas Hampers? It would seem we have many "SCROOGES", who work in and around the system.

Please explain this? Why is there MEANS testing going on? WE, the CAWDB, who presented had concerns about this funding that went out to Food Share, and the plan from the Emergency Food Planning Committee, as there is n plan in the future to move away from ths model.

Since the food banks hours are not as consistant through the month of December, please explain, who the city is helping so many that go hungry?

Where is the transparency and accountablility for the 500,000 that has gone to food share, yet so many in our community go hungry?

Yet it seems that we have tons of money to fund those who sit at the top, those the senior managers, who are the many who are in the "sunshine club". Yes it seems that, as a community, we give to a few, while the majority go without! Then of course , it is others who blame those a the bottom, when it is those at the top, who have caused much of the suffering we see.

And I won't back down!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUTXb-ga1...

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By reuben (registered) - website | Posted November 30, 2009 at 09:07:11

grassroots -- bratina has email. if your message is off topic to the discussion here, please contact him in another way.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted November 30, 2009 at 17:34:48

How about we designate all of the federal gas tax monies to transit and forget about all the other area rating/parking/etc debates?

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted November 30, 2009 at 21:32:04

Reuben: Well of course Bratina has email but I thought it would interesting for others just to see what is happening out there in the community.

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By WhyBobWhy (anonymous) | Posted December 01, 2009 at 14:57:37

Once again while “trying” to be progressive Councillor Bratina shoots himself in the foot.

His suggestion to raise parking rates and use the revenue to maintain HSR transit fares at current levels, is laudable. But, his positioning that it would help private parking lot owners is insulting. Especially when many of these private parking lot owners are the same operators that demolished buildings to lower their property tax bills, and some even operate their parking lots illegally.

This isn’t the first time that Councillor Bratina taken a stand for parking lot owners. From The Spectator, April 2, 2008; But that unpaved parking lot on the HMP site is temporary only, Bratina says, because developer Darko Vranich is going to move smartly on the Hilton Homewood Suites he announced for that property last spring.
"Why would we harass a guy who's going to build a $40-million hotel?" Bratina asks.
If for some reason the hotel didn't get under way, he says, the parking lot would go. "We'd shut it down. Nobody makes fools of us."
The parking lot on the old HMP footprint is still in operation today. Bob, please remind me who is the fool?

If Councillor Bratina truly wants be progressive then he should investigate and propose a way to tax parking lots at a greater rate then they are currently taxed. Private lots would move rates higher because of the higher property tax, and the city could raise their municipal parking rates at the same time. This would help transit by making driving more expensive and ALL monies from the parking increases (city lot/metered generated & tax generated) could go directly to public transit providing vastly greater funding.

In light of Councillor Bratina’s recent vote on Area Rating and now this proposal, it would appear he holds the financial interests of parking lot operators in higher regard then the financial interests of tax paying homeowners of Ward 2, and the rest of the urban city.

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By This Town Needs and Enema (anonymous) | Posted December 02, 2009 at 11:53:46

Here Here! I strongly agree with the above comments. Come on people of Hamilton don't you get it? The reason the city is in the shape that's it's in is because of the councilors. Look what they’ve done to this once thriving economic community. The city politician’s have turned Hamilton into what it is today. They are one’s to blame and so are the people who keep voting them back into office. Like Jack Nicholson said as the Joker in Batman “This Town Needs and Enema”!!!

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By WhyBobWhy (anonymous) | Posted December 02, 2009 at 20:58:00

The more I think about this article the more I feel it reads like the results of a “Case Study” on; How to Successfully Lobby a Councillor.

Here are some of my observations based on the article;
1. Councillor Bratina was contacted by someone representing one, if not more, of the parking lot operators in Downtown Hamilton.
2. It appears the conversation/pitch lead to how the municipal parking lots and curbside meters artificially depress the parking rates in Downtown Hamilton (unfair competition). And a suggestion was made that raising rates would benefit both the city and the private operators with increased revenue (“a win-win”).
3. Then it was wrapped in a pitch to use the increased parking fees to maintain transit rates so the motion becomes much more ‘saleable’ to others.
4. During the conversation, perhaps it was suggested that the city move to monetize its parking lots by selling the strategically located ones for development. How else can the following be interpreted? "prepare a Real Estate rationalization report of the city's Downtown Core parking lots with a view to creating new development opportunities." The idea is that many of the City's downtown parking facilities sit on strategic properties that should be developed rather than maintained as surface parking.
5. The Councillor dutifully started floating his motion to local media outlets, i.e. RTH.

Now, to sell (rationalization = sell, right?) municipal parking lots for development is completely nonsensical. The conspiracy theorist in me would envision the lots being sold to “developers” who would quickly find reasons for not developing and leave them as parking lots. With the municipal “unfair” competition removed from the parking market the daily and monthly lot rates could be increased across the entire core to the sole benefit of the private parking lot owners.

Make no mistake; parking is a “cash cow” to lot owners, as it can be for the City of Hamilton. There are no inputs, very little maintenance, limited overhead, and great ongoing cash returns.

As an example, there are approximately 251 working days in Ontario, meaning a 100 unit parking lot at $5/day grosses $125,500. If there is any vehicle turnover, evening/weekend or event parking that revenue number increases quickly and increases as pure additional profit. At $8/day the gross revenue from daytime working days is over $200K, at $10/day it’s over $250K, with no additional costs to the operation.

If anything, Councillor Bratina should be preparing a motion to reclaim strategic non-developed land and sell it to developers who will build, or else face stiff and enforced penalties (i.e. return of property). If those “developers” don’t exist then the city owns a parking lot cash cow operation where revenues can be used to fund public transit on a perpetual basis. And an operation that can be used to influence the behaviour of car drivers through the setting of parking rates.

We must stop being the fools that Councillor Bratina, in his own words, has set us up to become.

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