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

·3 min read

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 Lamb, 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."

One report going to Monday's meeting shows revenues at some of the TPA's off-street lots plunged by more than 300 per cent in April, compared to 2019.

Sruthi Ramanarayanan
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," Lamb 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.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
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."