The TTC is selling off more parking lots. But that's a good thing.
In recent years, the Toronto Transit Commission has slowly reduced the amount of parking at its stations. While customers complain about crowded parking lots and parking fees, the TTC’s approach is sustainable and sensible.
The TTC has more than 11,000 parking spots spread out at 13 stations across the system—excluding Yorkdale, where the TTC garage is closed for mall expansion. By comparison, the Toronto Parking Authority (TPA) owns and operates more than 20,000 off-street parking spots in lots and garages. But the biggest parking space owner, by far, is Metrolinx, the provincial transportation agency that operates GO Transit. Metrolinx owns and operates more than 64,000 parking spots at 58 train stations and bus terminals.
Most of the TTC’s spots are managed by the Toronto Parking Authority, and the land is considered City of Toronto property. Surplus TTC lands are not sold by the Commission, but by Build Toronto, an arm’s-length corporation tasked with selling and developing the City’s surplus real estate holdings. Money from land sales and lease deals doesn’t necessarily go toward funding the TTC’s operating or capital expenses, but rather toward general civic revenues.
Still, the TTC can benefit from new riders that development at its former lots can bring.
In 2009, the TTC ended a long-standing policy of offering free parking to Metropass holders. According to a 2013 TTC report [PDF], before the TTC began charging all customers for weekday parking, parking lots were nearly 100 per cent full; after it implemented parking fees, only 62 per cent of the spaces were filled. That year, the Commission declared eight lots at five stations surplus, to be sold off by Build Toronto.
Since 2009, parking spaces have been closed at Eglinton West in order to permit construction of the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT and at Yorkdale, to allow Oxford, the shopping centre’s owner, to build an expansion. In February 2016, the TTC closed the Cordova lot at Islington Station; Build Toronto sold the land to Tridel, a condominium developer.
As TTC ridership continues to grow, and lots close, parking utilization has increased. In 2013, 81 per cent of the TTC’s parking spots were used on a typical weekday. At Wilson and Downsview stations, affected by the closures at Yorkdale and Eglinton West, lots quickly filled up. Unlike GO Transit, which continues to build and expand parking spots, even purchasing properties in Downtown Brampton to demolish for surface lots, the TTC isn’t in the parking lot business.
In North York, the TTC and Build Toronto have been slowly closing parking lots in favour of new residential and commercial development. At York Mills, the parking lot on the northwest corner of Yonge Street and Wilson Avenue was sold by Build Toronto to the Gupta Group, who intends to build a condominium office building. (A previous plan would have seen the TTC move their head office out of the dilapidated McBrien Building at Davisville Station to York Mills). The parking lot remains open as sales continue for the office development, but it is no longer managed by the City.
At Wilson Station, two of four parking lots are up for development. The southeast lot, at 30 Tippet Road, has 541 spaces, down from 645 in 2013. According to Urban Toronto, long-term plans call for the southeast parking lot, as well as surrounding industrial lands, to be redeveloped as a mid-rise residential community, including new affordable rental apartments. A few mid-rise condo buildings—Gramercy Park and The Station—are already complete.
The southwest lot, across Allen Road and accessed from Billy Bishop Way, has 610 spots. Build Toronto is looking to lease that land to a developer for more than 5,000 square metres of retail development. Conceptual renderings on the Build Toronto website show a development similar to the Smart Centres’s “big-box” complex on the other side of the street—several buildings fronting on a large parking lot in the middle, hardly a transit-oriented development. It should be said, though, that the land is under the approach for Downsview Airport, so property uses are limited at this site.
The TTC expects to continue disposing of parking spaces as the rapid transit system expands. More than 2,500 new parking spaces will open at Pioneer Village and Highway 407 stations on the Spadina-York Subway Extension to Vaughan in late 2017. The TTC also expects that other transit projects, like the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT, will reduce the need for parking, as more commuters have better access to rapid transit.
Parking lots at rapid transit stations are expensive to build, expensive to maintain, and wasteful considering their value to developers. A 1,200-space parking garage, built by GO Transit at Pickering Station, cost $47 million to build, or more than $39,000 per space. GO Transit estimates that maintenance and servicing of parking costs approximately $100 per space for surface parking and $200 for garages.
Unlike GO Transit, which was built on a model of providing free parking spots to its customers, the TTC relies on walk-up traffic and buses and streetcars to feed its rapid transit system. Adding more walk-up traffic is a smart and sensible solution.