Toronto

Plunge in city parking revenue due to pandemic is 'staggering,' Toronto councillor says

As the city struggles to balance the 2021 budget in the face of a worsening pandemic, councillors are coming to grips with a steep drop in revenue from the Toronto Parking Authority. Coun. Brad Bradford calls the figures "staggering," but not surprising.

City expected $60M from parking this year, but got $4.1M. That could drop to $0 next year

Coun. Brad Bradford, who sits on the TPA's board of directors, says the drop in parking revenues this year is 'staggering but not surprising.' (Mike Smee/CBC)

As the city struggles to balance the 2021 budget in the face of a worsening pandemic, councillors are coming to grips with a steep drop in revenue from one of its key money-makers: the Toronto Parking Authority (TPA).

The agency was expected to chip in almost $60 million this year to city coffers. But steep drops in demand for parking downtown mean that amount has plummeted to just $4.1 million. And the amount it expects to contribute in 2021? Zero. 

Those numbers, however, don't shock Coun. Brad Bradford, who represents Ward 19, Beaches-East York and sits on the TPA board.

"They're staggering, but they're not surprising," Bradford said. "If ... folks aren't paying for parking and you do that for several months, it's not surprising that revenue is going to be down.

Several October reports by TPA staff — two of which go to the city's general government and licensing committee Monday — indicate the agency lost millions of dollars a month in the first few months of the pandemic.

The number of people parking downtown started to pick up in the summer, as the first lockdown eased. But one report warns, "recent evidence has shown a decline in transactions and revenue with the emergence of the second wave of the pandemic."

Revenue from parking was expected to pump $60 million into city coffers this year. The drop in demand due to the pandemic cut that figure to $4.1 million. (Sruthi Ramanarayanan)

Traditionally, the TPA covers its own expenses, then passes most of the remaining revenues over to the city. After property taxes, which cover about 86 per cent of the city's $13.5 billion annual budget, the TPA is the third largest contributor, records show.

"The key here is not necessarily to just look at what happened in light of a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic, but look ahead to the future, how we rebuild, how we respond and how we move forward as an agency and as a city," Bradford told CBC Toronto.

In 2021, the report warns, the financial picture for the city is even more bleak:

"TPA's budgeted 2021 net income is expected to be nil," the Oct. 19 report reads, "reflecting the assumption that the pandemic will continue to impact the full year of operations."

'Absolutely essential'

City initiatives like CafeTO, ActiveTO and CurbTO, which were designed to ease the impact of the pandemic on residents and local businesses, chewed up more than 800 paid parking spots as patios and bike lanes took over traffic lanes. But Bradford said the benefits of those initiatives far outweighed the $2.5 million cost of the eliminated paid parking spots.

The city lost many lucrative parking spaces to the CafeTO program, which was set up so restaurants could extend their patios and allow diners to physically distance while eating outside. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

"I think it was absolutely essential to get us through the summer months of the pandemic, in an unprecedented time," he said.

With the city already facing a $1.8-billion deficit heading into the 2021 budget calculations, Bradford said he and other councillors will look at ways to make up for the hole created by slumping demand for parking.

"We have to fill those holes," he said "We need to think about service levels. We need to think about revenue tools. We need to work with the provincial and federal government in order to fill that gap."

But he said the average person probably won't notice a difference in the level of service provided by the Toronto Parking Authority.

Drivers may need to look harder for places to park next year though: One of the reports suggests paid parking spots lost to ActiveTO's accelerated bike lane expansion could be replaced by converting one-hour-free spaces to paid parking spots.

"TPA has identified approximately 1,660 potential paid parking spaces that fall into this category," the report reads.

One bright spot throughout the pandemic has been the TPA-run Toronto BikeShare program.

Ridership continued to increase this year, Bradford said, as people looked for alternative ways of moving around the city.

"It's been a godsend throughout the pandemic," he said. "We have historic ridership numbers, and people are getting out."

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story quoted a TPA staff report that indicated revenue losses of 309 per cent at the authority's controlled lots in April 2020 compared to April of 2019. The TPA now says that number was an error, and the correct figure is 83 per cent.
    Nov 30, 2020 4:19 PM ET

About the Author

Michael Smee

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Michael Smee has worked in print, radio, TV and online journalism for many years. You can reach him at michael.smee@cbc.ca

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