Goodbye, Green P? Toronto Parking Authority might become privatized to fill city’s budget gap

Goodbye, Green P? Toronto Parking Authority might become privatized to fill city’s budget gap

P is for “privatization”? (Image: Matt MacGillivray)

With the latest in what seems like a never-ending string of budget crises looming over the horizon, Rob Ford’s office is looking at assets the city can sell to close next year’s gap. One of the assets that the Toronto Star says is potentially up for sale is the Toronto Parking Authority (TPA)—the body that runs the Green P lots and all the on-street parking in the city. Like so many of the proposals out of the mayor’s office these days, this idea merits some scrutiny.

The first big objection to selling the TPA is common to all government privatization schemes: it’s a short-term shot of money at the expense of future revenue the city might have had. It’s one thing to sell off a money-loser to some entrepreneur who thinks she can turn it around. It’s quite another to sell a money-making property like the TPA.

There’s another political objection that needs to be dealt with. Almost half of the TPA’s parking spaces are on-street spaces that are ridiculously profitable. (They’d have to be: unlike the off-street lots, the TPA pays neither rent nor property taxes for on-street spaces.) According to their 2011 budget presentation [PDF], the TPA makes almost twice as much money per space from on-street parking as it does from off-street lots. The obvious question for motorists, as well as local businesses, is why should a private company reap the profits from using up public real estate, which is all an on-street parking space is?

Then there’s the obvious question of whether a private firm would be allowed to raise rates on parking without getting council approval first. It’s hard to imagine anyone buying the TPA without that kind of leeway, but that puts Toronto in the same position that Ontario is in with the 407—watching the cost to use a public asset get ratcheted higher and higher without public consultation.

If the Ford administration wants to make some money out of the TPA—and how could it not?— it might want to look at what San Francisco is doing: the rush-hour rate for parking will be $6 per hour, or even more depending on events. The SFPark intiative is a small baby step toward reducing the high cost of free (or way too cheap) parking. One problem: charging drivers the cost of actually using the street as a parking lot would likely end up being called the next war on the car.

• Looking for the gravy [Looking for the gravy]
• About the project [SFPark]