2017 pilot project will make players pay permit fees per hour on public courts.
Tuomo Perala hits the Moss Park tennis courts every day at noon. It’s a routine, one that keeps him active and playing the sport he loves.
As it stands, rallying during the lunch hour doesn’t cost Perala. But a 2017 pilot project will explore how that could change and whether the existing first-come, first-serve model for free public access works best.
Toronto will test an online reservation system for its public tennis courts at four of the 116 public tennis court locations from April to October 2017. The pilot project will require residents wanting to use the City’s public courts to pay a permit fee for one hour of play time and raises questions about ensuring access to tennis courts.
At locations where there is more than one tennis court, the permits for the pilot project will only apply to one court, while others will be used on a first-come, first-serve basis. Permit locations and fees have yet be determined.
Over the six months of the tennis season, pubic courts—like the Moss Park court used by Perala—have been free to the general public to play and accessible during the hours of 8 a.m. until dusk or 10 p.m. at night-lit courts. Players must surrender the court every half-hour if someone is waiting—it’s a trade off for not having to pay for the facility.
While access is an issue for public courts, so is the quality of the sites.
“Private courts in Toronto are very expensive,” Perala says.
But those courts are well maintained—something the City could stand to learn from. Perala says the City currently doesn’t take care of the courts as well as they should.
“We finally got new nets last year,” he says. “The day after they were installed someone was trying to tighten it and they snapped the cord. My buddy and I have jigsawed something together to have that net fixed since last August. The City has not come to fix it.”
The lighting system above Moss Park’s tennis courts have also been an issue because, Perala says, the City does not adjust the lighting to daylight saving time.
Norman Lee, who is a volunteer and vice president of Gwendolen Park Tennis Club, says it’s hard to see the purpose or advantages of the City’s pilot project.
“I don’t understand the purpose of this unless it’s for two people who want to play and neither one of them belong to a community club and they don’t want to wait and [they’re] willing to pay,” he says. “If this is to encourage tennis playing, then that’s certainly not the way to do it.”
The pilot project raises the issue of affordability for low-income families and young tennis players who aren’t able pay for tennis courts that are well-conditioned.
According to the City’s report [PDF] that uses the 2006 census and outlines patterns through 2010 relating to low-income neighbourhoods, Regent Park, Oakridge Park, and Thorncliffe Park have the highest family low-income rates in the GTA—but none have accessible public tennis courts on their property. Thorncliffe Park is the only one to have tennis courts, but they’re controlled by a community club.
Even though the City leases some tennis courts to community clubs for the duration of the tennis season, public hours and memberships fees are self-regulated.
For instance, an adult registering as a member at Gwendolen Park Tennis Club would have to pay an average fee of $93 per season, depending on the registration date, while a junior under of the age of 18 costs an average of $30 and a family of four would pay $208. If a guest does not show up for the public hours on Friday between 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. or 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Sundays, they would only be allowed entry after paying a $10 fee with a club member on hand.
Meanwhile, the membership fee for an adult at KEW Gardens Tennis Club costs $195 and $140 for a junior between the age of 17 and 21 years old who is a student. KEW Gardens Tennis Club has a guest fee of $5 for those playing outside Sunday’s public hours of 5 p.m. to 9 p.m..
Funding and backlash
Councillor Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul’s) says some people aren’t using the public courts because playing time is never guaranteed, which is an issue.
He has three recommendations for the courts. First, if clubs are running courts, they should have a “very broad access policy so that no one feels they’re not welcome.” He also believes that there should be a mix of open-access, public courts and club-access courts. Lastly, he says, hours should be balanced on courts and shared among clubs and the public.
These recommendations, he says, could help absolve some criticism from local players.
Mihevc is familiar with the backlash that could arise from the privatization of public tennis courts when residents of Cedarvale fought to keep tennis courts at Cedarvale Park from becoming a community club in 2012.
But advocates of community clubs say their system works.
“Our members pay all the costs for upkeep of the courts and the clubhouse,” says Neil McKechnie, manager of KEW Gardens Tennis Club. “I understand that some of the public want to get on some of these courts, but they’re probably not going to have a easy time playing on a court where the members are picking up 98 per cent of the bulk of the costs and then the public says, ‘Well, we want to play on those because they’re on City property.’”
Toronto is currently dealing with an estimated $442 million state-of-the-good backlog of its parks, forestry, and recreation for 2016.
Safety is also an overlooked issue at public courts. On private sites, court monitors are heavily relied on for duties throughout the summer, such as turning lights on and off at scheduled times and locking and unlocking gates to the courts and clubhouse.
On public courts, there’s no one to monitor food, drinks, alcohol, and smoking being used while in play as well as any disputes that may take place.
The pilot project
For now, players like Perala are in the clear—free to play without pay. The City’s pilot project won’t begin until April 2017 at just four locations across Toronto. From there, the project’s results will be evaluated.
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