toronto parking

Parking in Toronto is a billion-dollar business

Over the past few months, the Toronto Parking Authority has been getting more attention than usual. Known as the Green P, the agency manages parking lots, electric charging stations, on-street parking, the city’s bike sharing program and some real estate.

The TPA is a unique city agency because of the amount of money it brings into the city’s coffers. According to the agency, the TPA has contributed $1.4 billion in dividends since 2002. Under the city’s bylaws, the agency is required to provide a minimum of 35 million dollars or 85 per cent of its profits to the city. In return, the city has historically ignored the agency, so it has operated with a certain degree of autonomy.

That may be changing.

The TPA is now in the cross-hairs of the city because it wants to keep a little more of the money it is raising. Even though city hall agreed to raise the parking rates, the parking authority is claiming that it needs even more money to fix the parking lots and to manage the capital expenses of the electric vehicle–charging infrastructure and bike-sharing program.

Since city hall has an operating deficit to close, the pleas of the authority are not being well received by some city councillors. In response, the TPA is threatening to end some of the programs that are not core to its mandate — such as the bike-sharing program.

At the same time that city hall is making it difficult for the authority to keep more of the funds raised, the community is also making it difficult for the authority to raise rents to market rates for a small business called Dipped Donuts that leases space from its Baldwin Street location.

The five-year lease for the doughnut shop is up for renewal, and the TPA is required by law to raise rents to market rates.

This means that the dough-nut shop will have to pay almost double to stay in that location and claims it can’t sell enough doughnuts to pay the new rent.

The TPA is not used to so much attention and is now in the unenviable position of defending itself against city hall to keep more of its money; Cycle Toronto for holding the bike-share program “hostage”; and the Kensington Market Community Land Trust for being mean to small business.

As if that isn’t enough, Housing NowTO claims that the Toronto Parking Authority is resisting supporting the ultimate city goal of converting the parking lots to housing. The long-term goal is to sell or develop 130 parking lots for housing because the property tax alone will generate more income that parking levies. It makes no sense to reinvest in these properties since they will no longer be part of the parking authority portfolio in a few years.

The problems at the TPA are symptomatic of what is happening at city hall. City hall is out of money and out of ideas. As a result, it is looking to its revenue-generating agencies to finance its hopes and dreams.

The TPA played along for a while until it ran into its own financial challenges. It might be a lesson in making some hard choices all around.

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO