Auto-besity and the politics of Toronto parking

During the mayoral byelection, congestion emerged as an issue for the city. The Board of Trade has pegged the cost of congestion at $11 billion annually in the Toronto area. There are many proposals to deal with congestion, including, co-ordinating road work, increasing cycling infrastructure and improved public transit. 

Then, there is parking. 

Parking on major arterials is the most inefficient use of road space possible and should be discontinued. 

It makes absolutely no sense to permit street parking on busy roads when the cost of paid parking doesn’t remotely cover the true cost of using that spot that effectively takes an entire lane of traffic out of service.

However, removing on-street parking from major arterials is not something for which municipal politicians have the fortitude. Many cities in Europe are instead imposing a surcharge on large vehicles for parking. 

London started charging owners of SUVs more for parking in the city centre and now the practice has become quite widespread.  

Paris also announced a similar scheme, dubbed “auto-besity,” under the auspices of responding to climate change.

In these instances, the fee is more irritant than an actual deterrent to buying larger vehicles. People who want a larger vehicle already pay more in gas and insurance, so they are not going to switch to a smart car because of an increased parking fee. 

According to Paris officials, there has been a 60 per cent increase in the number of SUVs in the city over the last four years. 

But while the climate fighters can feel good about sticking it to the gas-guzzling SUV drivers, it won’t change behaviour and it won’t make a dent in the city’s budgetary black hole. The only thing this proposal will do is become a distraction to an issue that is becoming a real concern. 

Large SUVs and pickup trucks are creating problems for cities. 

Over time, these vehicles have become bigger and heavier and do have a disproportionate impact on roads, parking lots and city streets relative to smaller sedans and electric cars.  

Many of the large vehicles don’t fit in the new condo developments or parking lots that use the standard vehicle size for parking. They also take up more room on streets, add to congestion and, because of their sheer size, have bigger blind spots, which creates dangers for cyclists and pedestrians. 

Instead of an additional parking fee, these vehicles should be paying additional annual registration fees based on weight. 

The city could reimpose a vehicle registration tax and base it on weight. Although Toronto residents rebelled against a $60 vehicle registration fee when it was first imposed, it might be time to revisit its efficacy.  

Admittedly, there will be challenges, especially since the current provincial government dismantled the infrastructure that the city used to collect the vehicle tax, but if the city is serious about confronting the challenges that SUVs and larger cars pose, then it should start with serious solutions.  


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