Recently, there has been discussion in the London Free Press about the downtown and transportation, in general. A debate has been going on about whether or not to provide free parking in the core, versus implementing a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line or two or simply increasing the standard transit. In today’s edition of the LFP, a mish-mash of reader responses as well as from city counsellors and others was published.
I’ll start with the positive: a BRT system seems to be heavily favoured and encouraged, and it would be very interesting to see such a thing implemented in London. If I had a way of getting from south London, up to the Masonville area, in less than a couple of hours, I’d probably never have to use a car to get anywhere in this city at all. Many other major cities, including Hamilton, at least have a couple of “express” bus routes that cross the city in a much smaller amount of time than the standard routes, and while not exactly a BRT, these routes crank up the efficiency of crossing a fairly sizeable distance. It’s perfect for students, in particular, but would obviously benefit a number of others, too. I should add that in my opinion, BRT would most benefit the smaller communities just outside of London (e.g. Byron or Lambeth). If the intention is truly to connect White Oaks to Masonville, an express transit route is most likely the best way to go.
Now, unfortunately, comes the harsh reality: free parking is never really “free.” A number of responses to the downtown parking conundrum indicate that drivers would like to see more free parking. One writer in particular indicated that she would never pay to park and shop downtown when she can park at the mall “for free.”
It’s true that you aren’t forced to pay out of pocket to pull your car into a mall parking lot, and, essentially, welcome to leave it parked there for as long as you please. However, you are still paying to park there, simply indirectly — all the stores in the mall are paying rent for the space, and that goes towards the upkeep of the parking lot (among other facilities). Therefore, integrated into anything that you buy, is the cost of parking your car in the lot.
Customers, then, such as myself, end up contributing as well, even though I almost exclusively walk or bus to the mall.
The main issue isn’t whether or not you are paying out of your pocket to park anywhere that you care to leave your vehicle. Instead, it stems deeply from owning the car to begin with. The standard argument still stands: once you’ve invested in the vehicle, the maintenance, and the insurance, it would seem to make little sense not to use it when you want. Therefore, once again, the argument for increased transit and transit incentives comes into play once more.
Should the amount of available parking downtown be increased? Being the alternative transit activist that I am, I will always say “no”. Increased access to information about parking and about transit, making it readily available, and promoting alternatives would be far more cost effective than establishing increased parking facilities, abolishing parking fees, or increasing the property taxes on downtown businesses. Additional, secondary benefits include cleaner air, healthier citizens(/pedestrians), and less congestion.
Bus fair does come out of your pocket. Just don’t for a moment think that you aren’t paying for that parking spot when you pull into the Old Navy, either.