Develop an app that uses GPS for Toronto parking spots

Item date: 
February 2, 2012
Item context: 

This article is based, in part, on Dennis Burns' presentation at the Transport Futures "Mobility Pricing Stakeholder Forum" which took place on November 22, 2012.


Studies suggest nearly one-third of downtown traffic consists of drivers seeking parking spots.

During peak shopping times it’s likely the same story on those paved acreages surrounding suburban shopping malls.

As well as frazzling tempers, this circling produces copious pollution and greenhouse gas emissions

What’s to be done?

A great deal, according to speakers at the most recent Transport Futures Mobility forum and experts I’ve spoken with since.

It’s no longer enough to provide spots, with arbitrary fees, then leave drivers to hunt them down, they say.

Their ideal is to have 15 per cent of parking spaces vacant at any time. At that rate, most are occupied and generating revenue, but there are enough for new arrivals.

One solution for on-street and surface parking is to set prices to achieve that target. Seattle tried it last year, in an experiment aimed at ensuring one or two free spots per block, says Dennis Burns, a parking design consultant in Phoenix, Ariz. The researchers measured occupancy rates, block by block, in 22 neighbourhoods. Then, they adjusted and readjusted parking fees until, as Burns puts it, “it had the desired impact.”

Of course the new rates were higher in prime congested areas and lower in less desirable spots. That’s the easy part. The trick, like getting Goldilock’s porridge the right temperature, was for prices to equalize demand — high enough to persuade some drivers to walk a bit further but not so high that most would head for distant spots.

Further adjustments can control popular parking periods.

“If there are only a couple of problematic times, why raise prices all day?” Burns says.

Market forces already determine parking rates to some extent. That’s why you’ll pay $30 a day to leave your car under a downtown tower but get free space at a North York strip mall.

But Burns’ “preference pricing” is an explicit policy to make finding a parking spot more predictable, at whatever price you’re willing to pay...

But forum participants noted that discussion of parking usually goes hand in hand with debate about road tolls and congestion fees.

Tolls and fees aim to discourage driving, and raising parking charges can have the same effect. But the new parking systems would make it more convenient to drive. So, they asked, what are we trying to achieve?

It’s a fair question, which leads to another: Should we go to great trouble and expense to reduce parking woes when that could simply encourage more cars where they’re unwanted?