A Toronto Star article about the TTC potentially axing the free parking benefit for Metropass holders caught my attention this morning. While the Star's online comment system doesn't encourage nuanced viewpoints (more on that later), the general outrage is understandable. This isn't a good idea, and it wouldn't be a good choice. Unfortunately the Star fails to point out the real reason why: lack of vision and support.
Note the info box at the side of the page:
BALANCE SHEET Impact of ending free parking at TTC lots for Metropass holders: Parking revenues (after increase): $5.5M to $7.5M Reduced fare revenues as a result: $2.5M to $3.5M Increased operating costs: $100,000 Net: $2.9M to $3.9M Source: TTC staff report
What has happened here?
One, the environmental cost is wrongly excluded from the balance sheet. I acknowledge that the TTC has no mandate to consider the environmental impact of their decisions, and no authority to spend money to reduce such. Without free parking, a Metropass holder from the 905 might elect to drive into the downtown core instead of parking at Kipling, Downsview, Finch or Kennedy and taking the subway. Under a reasonable scheme for taxing pollution, the extra cost of gas or toll roads would outweigh the ~$6 for TTC parking. Mass transit would remain the more attractive option. Absent this incentive, observe that the TTC expects to lose up to $3.5M annually (almost 3000 full-year Metropass subscriptions) from the change; i.e. it is a net disincentive to ridership.
Second, I refer to the Hong Kong model again:
MTR Corporation has always been reliant on developing properties next to railway stations for its profits (although the rail lines are profitable themselves); many recently built stations are incorporated into large housing estates or shopping complexes.
Far from reliance, the TTC does no property development whatsoever; even hints at repurposing its lands involve their sale to developers who would retain any revenue. Consider the three Tridel Nuvo/Essex condominiums on the north side of St. Albans Road at Kipling Station. These >25-story buildings are nearly sold out; 1 bedroom + den units are already being resold for over $230,000. A fourth building is planned, and you can be certain this is not because Tridel is losing money on the first three.
An identical building, owned by the TTC, could fit in the South Lot at Kipling. A fraction of the revenue from rent or residents' fees could fund the simultaneous building of a 3+-layer parking garage (above or below grade) on the North Lot; with a net increase in parking spaces. Further, a majority of the residents/tenants would certainly be Metropass holders who would not use parking spaces — because they could walk directly into the station — so free parking could be maintained for Etobicoke and Mississauga commuters.
However this sort of win-win-win-win-etc. proposition is only feasible if someone will fund the capital cost of the new building on the South Lot. The province of Ontario provides little money for this sort of project, and the federal government offers none. This is what I consider when voting in provincial and federal elections: who is likely to make this sort of positive change possible?