I never expected to be writing so much about parking in this space or on Twitter. But once again, it’s parking that has my attention thanks to a series of articles and editorials in the Waterloo Region Record last week.
What’s been getting most of the attention has been that taxpayers is that Revenue Canada determined that free parking for municipal employees in our downtown cores was a taxable benefit and that while our local municipalities fought the decision, they built up a $1.4 million tab that was owed by staff receiving this benefit. Those decisions are unfortunate and while taxpayers never should have found themselves in this situation, it’s not what has caught my attention.
What concerns me is that only one municipality has acted to end free parking for staff. The City of Kitchener gets it. Rather than providing parking for its staff working downtown, it has moved to begin charging for it thus eliminating the taxable benefit.
The City of Kitchener move makes perfect sense on several levels:
- The vast majority of staff do not need a parking spot to do their jobs. Their cars sit in a parking space all day while they work at their desks.
- Providing parking to staff for free (even as a taxable benefit) is a luxury when parking is at a premium. The city can not justify giving away so many spaces when making so much noise about the lack of parking downtown. On this issue, they are walking the talk and deserve to be congratulated.
So why is the Region of Waterloo so reluctant to take the same action? They say it has to do with having employees who work in areas where parking is free and others where paying for parking is common. They see it as an equity issue that also has implications for moving staff from one location to another.
The thing is as John MacDonald reminds me, there is no such thing as free parking. Somebody is paying to create it and provide it. At best it’s subsidized. So the question is who pays?
The Region knows that parking has a cost as they are contributing towards a new parking garage to be built as part of the Kitchener Public Library project. How many of those spots are really needed?
I like the idea of adding these parking spaces to the mix and support this new garage but at some point, the Region needs to stop subsidizing people to drive to work in downtown Kitchener. The same reasoning that applies to the City of Kitchener applies here. The Region too has a responsibility for contributing to the economic health of its largest city by reducing its demands upon a limited resource.
But the trump card is that the Region runs Grand River Transit and needs to demonstrate leadership encouraging its staff to use public transit to get to and from work. I hope they are already acting to do so but as long as staff believe they are parking for free, where’s the incentive to change their behaviour.
If the Region fails to charge staff to park in downtown Kitchener, they risk more than being called hypocritical. They risk the success of the Light Rapid Transit (LRT) initiative. How can the Region in good faith ask its citizens to make such a significant investment in public transit when they are not walking the talk? They can’t.
I am a strong supporter of the Light Rapid Transit and believe it is a must to transform and intensify our urban cores. Let’s avoid staff parking from being an election issue or being used as a weapon against the LRT. It’s time for Ken Seiling and friends to act. There’s no such thing as free parking, it’s time to make it official.