Vancouver's West End urged to embrace parking sharing

Every day, thousands of parking spots sit empty in Vancouver's West End, which also happens to be one of the toughest areas in the city to find a parking space.

'Parking congestion ... is only going to get worse,' says UBC professor

A UBC study has urged the city to allow building owners to rent out or share unused parking spots on their properties. (CBC)

Every day, thousands of parking spots sit empty in Vancouver's West End which also happens to be one of the toughest areas in the city to find on-street parking.

That shortage could be eased if some of these unused parking spaces were shared, says the co-author of a new study.

Right now, there are about 3,700 vacant parking spaces, largely underneath West End apartment towers, said Alex Bigazzi, a professor at the University of British Columbia's department of civil engineering and school of community and regional planning.

Bigazzi's study urges the city to take steps to allow building owners to rent out those unused parking spots to ease the squeeze for on-street parking in the West End, one of the city's most densely populated neighbourhoods.

A recent city report estimated that during busy periods, it takes drivers roughly five minutes to find a parking spot. For visitors who are less familiar with the area, it takes them around 10 minutes.

"Parking congestion in the West End is only going to get worse," Bigazzi said. "This is one way of easing that congestion."

Tap glut of parking spaces, say researcher

Bigazzi supervised the research, which was conducted by Seattle-area transportation planner Neil Abbott, for his master's program at UBC. 

Many of the unused West End parking spots are below ground, underneath rental buildings that were built in the 1970s, 80s and 90s when city bylaws required developers to provide one parking spot per unit, Bigazzi said.

But many tenants with cars prefer to buy on-street parking permits because they're cheaper. For many, an annual on-street parking permit in the West End is $72. By contrast, a typical parking spot in an apartment building costs about $50 a month.

As a result, many tenants opt for cheaper on-street parking even though they have access to parking in their buildings.

The city has issued about 6,000 parking permits in the West End. But there are only 2,700 on-street parking spaces.

Many of the rental properties analyzed in the UBC study had 50 or more parking stalls sitting empty, particularly during work hours. Bigazzi said it would be fairly easy to change city bylaws to allow building owners to rent out those spaces.

One solution? Hike permit fees

For years, the city has been looking for ways to ease the West End's parking problems.

Last month, council approved a plan to hiking on-street parking permit rates — from $72 per year to $360 a year. Those increases only apply to new permit holders.

The city is also looking at a range of other options for the West End, including parking sharing.

"There is opportunity in this unused inventory," said Eric Mital, the city's manager of parking management.

The city would have to amend bylaws in order to give building owners permission to rent out parking spots, Mital said. There are also security and liability concerns for building owners.