Why is parking in Calgary so expensive?

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Parking in Calgary is pricey – that’s no shock. But when did our city decide it was going to pull a Manhattan and hold something as mundane as parking up to a brand-name standard?

According to Collier’s 2012 Parking Rate Survey for North America, Calgary was rated the second most expensive place to park in all of North America, aside from New York. With monthly parking rates around $550, Calgarians working downtown are paying well over $6,000 a year for parking.

 Jeff Smith has been working at an accounting firm downtown since 2009, and says his monthly parking rates have increased from 10 to 15 per cent over the past few years.

“I now pay $561.75 a month,” Smith says. “That’s a fair bit. I’m sure there’s somewhere cheaper out there to park, but it’s probably not within a reasonable distance. Like Airdrie.”

While penthouse parking can be expected in Calgary’s core, other places such as hospitals, universities and even the airport have seen increases in parking rates this year.

Duane Anderson, the vice president of administrative services at Mount Royal University, says that budget cuts are to blame for higher than average parking rates at universities in Calgary.parking2 resizeEven outside Calgary’s downtown core on 17th Avenue S.W., local Calgarians say, “parking rates are ridiculous.”

Photo by Anna Brooks

“As a result of the provincial budget, the university had to find $13.9 million to balance its operating budget for 2013-2014,” Anderson says. “Parking rate increases were recommended as one of the solutions to contribute to balancing the budget.”

Parking passes for university employees and students can cost up to $1,200 annually – on top of the $8,000 plus being paid for tuition, textbooks and supplies each academic year. Although we now know the why’s behind increases in university parking rates, what’s the rest of the city’s excuse?

Troy McLeod, head of the Calgary Parking Authority, says their prices are based on the market. Despite its role as the “bad guys” in the city, McLeod says the parking authority sets its prices 15 to 20 per cent below the market rate.

“We look at the prices of parkades within a two to three block radius and set our prices below that,” McLeod says. “We operate under the City of Calgary for no tax revenue, so there’s no tax dollars used for any of our operations. In fact, we actually turn money back to the city in the order of about $30 million annually.”
“I’m sure there’s somewhere cheaper out there to park, but it’s probably not within a reasonable distance. Like Airdrie.”

– Jeff Smith, downtown employeeMcLeod explains another factor in parking prices is “mode-splits,” which is the number of people using alternate modes of transportation such as transit, cycling and walking. A secret to some, McLeod says each new building constructed in the downtown core restricts 50 per cent of their parking to promote these mode-splits.

“Calgary is actually a leader in jurisdictions for providing a high mode-split,” McLeod continues. “We are near 50 per cent on transit, which is one of the highest in North America from that perspective.”

While it’s easy to be skeptical of any claims parking authoritarians make, Lorne Persiko, a member of the International Parking Institute’s Advisory Council, says North Americans shouldn’t take Collier’s surveys as the be-all, end-all of accurate parking information.parking4 resizeThose looking to shop, walk or just grab a coffee downtown are paying a minimum of $2.25 an hour – that, after having spent half an hour hunting for a parking spot.

Photo by Anna Brooks

“First off, no city, let alone Calgary, should be compared to New York when it comes to parking,” Persiko jokes. “But seriously, the Collier’s surveys don’t take certain aspects into consideration when compiling these numbers – like unreserved parking versus reserved parking. Clearly reserved parking is going to be much more expensive than unreserved.”

Persiko says that parking markets vary, as does how each city establishes their parking rates. Calgary Parking Authority, for example, doesn’t build their own parking spots; money is paid to the City and subsequently the City picks and chooses when and where parkades are constructed. As mentioned by McLeod, Persiko also attests to the importance of public transit systems in cities like Calgary and Toronto.

Though encouraging Calgarians to hop on the mode-split express seems fruitful, people like downtown employee Smith say such claims may be disingenuous.

“Theoretically, that would be nice if all the lots were owned and operated by the city,” Smith says. “But you’ve got private operators who are certainly not interested in anyone taking public transit. They’d rather people pay for parking.”

The good news folks? If you aren’t parking at a university, hospital, airport, parkade or anywhere in the downtown core, yes, you can afford parking in Calgary.


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