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.
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.
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