Three Reasons Why GO Transit Should Charge for Parking

A provincial government-commissioned report released last April recommends that GO Transit begin charging for parking at its stations. The report, which was completed by First Class Partnerships, a transit consultant based in London, U.K., suggests charging $3 for daily parking before 9am and $1 for the day for those who arrive after 9am. The recommendation is based on a basis of covering costs – Metrolinx (the parent organization of GO Transit) spends approximately $100 million annually to build new parking infrastructure at its stations. The report suggests that charging for parking could recover about $25 million of that cost.

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Surely if/when Metrolinx implements this measure it will be met with outrage (60% of riders drive to the stations), but what are the upsides to this? The positive effects of pay parking go well beyond cost recovery.

  1. Building Parking is Not Profitable

Historically, GO has added an average of 2,500 parking spaces per year to its network. This means that Metrolinx’s annual $100 million budget produces new parking spaces for a whopping $40,000 apiece. Even at the proposed $3/day charge and assuming the parking space is occupied for all 250 annual working days, the payback period for this investment is over 53 years.

To be fair, GO is not out to make profits – their operating revenue only manages to cover about 78% of its operating expenses, meaning government subsidies are required to keep it running. However, using a 3% cost of capital and generous 20-year outlook, one can find that a parking space will recover about $11,100, or just 28% of its cost to build a parking space – drastically lower than its operational cost recovery rate. At this rate it’s safe to say there are better ways Metrolinx could be spending its money.

  1. Pay Parking is an Incentive to Encourage Alternatives

Charging for parking is a powerful tool for many things, including driving demand for alternatives. A 2009 survey of 107 U.S. cities found that the average cost of public parking has a direct correlation with the percentage of people who take public transit. In short: charge more for parking, and more people will take transit. This is especially true in larger cities.

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GO Transit’s free and abundant parking currently provides absolutely no incentive for drivers to even consider another means of getting to the station. By charging just a small daily amount, GO’s customers may think twice about how they want to get to their station, perhaps electing to walk or bike when the weather allows, or even just getting a ride to the station from their spouse.

  1. Parking is a Waste of Space!

Parking is by far one of the least efficient uses of space. Most of GO’s spaces are only used for 8-10 hours per day, 5 days per week, and provide absolutely zero benefit to anyone other than the driver who parks there. According to a parking study produced by Metrolinx, nine of the eleven stations on the Lakeshore West line are sitting on medium-to-high-value land! These are stations that are close to amenities, surrounding dense development, and other desirable features. Paving over this land with surface parking is about the least valuable use of these spaces.

GO Transit is on the right path in this case. In recent years their parking expansion has focused on higher-density multi-level parking garages, making slightly more efficient use of the land. Metrolinx has even recently announced plans to create new multi-use development at Port Credit GO Station, over an area currently covered in surface parking. It is essential that this push continue – not only because it makes more valuable use of the land, but also because it turns GO stations into destinations, rather than simply a transfer point to get to Union station. By doing this, the GO station becomes an integrated part of its surrounding community, much like the TTC’s subway stations.

TTC’s Eglinton subway station is surrounded by diverse, mixed-use, high-density development. The station boasts over 80,000 riders per day, without having a single parking space. Photo credit:

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