DURHAM: Local commuters using GO trains and buses won't be paying a little extra after all, following a lively discussion by Regional council regarding the potential introduction of parking fees at the service's lots and garages.
The issue of GO parking fees was one of a pair of amendments introduced by Ajax Mayor Steve Parish, during a discussion of Durham's response to a provincial report on the next phase of the Metrolinx transit expansion project. Twenty members of council voted against the proposal.
The notion of investigating a parking fee was previously removed from the report, during a discussion at the Region's Finance and Administration committee. Durham Finance Commissioner RJ Clapp explained that the parking fee was originally discussed with Durham Region Transit as a "mechanism to assist local transit expenditures."
The Ajax mayor's second amendment - regarding proposed changes to the Region's Development Charge Act, which would allow for Durham to direct more funding toward its cycling plan - was also voted down.
According to Mayor Parish, the GO parking fees could serve as a way for the Region to not only recoup some costs related to the maintenance of Durham Region Transit, but to also help reduce rush hour gridlock by limiting the number of vehicles parked at GO lots.
"We pay a lot of money for our transit service and everything that enhances that service," said Mayor Parish. "But there's no such thing as free – free means someone else is paying for it. By charging a reasonable fee for parking at GO stations, that makes people make a sound economic decision whether to take the car or take a bus. The Westney Rd. station is very much overloaded during rush hour. This won't raise big money, but it will send a message and the money is best raised by helping people make a better decision regarding transit. Along the lakefront municipalities, gridlock is an issue that is costing the Region millions of
dollars every year."
Several councillors weighed in on the matter, with many stating that such additional fees would serve only to punish transit users and possibly put more cars on the road.
"You're penalizing people for using transit," said Clarington Mayor Adrian Foster, "and you're going to have the opposite result of what you're looking for."
Other councillors raised the matter of commuters travelling from North Durham communities of Scugog, Uxbridge and Brock.
"What about northern communities?" said Oshawa Councillor Nancy Diamond. "They have no service. To be charged an additional charge to drive to a GO station is not reasonable. We have to look at the reality of what we already pay and what our responsibility is. It's not acceptable that further costs be put on Durham commuters."
Added Scugog Councillor Bobbie Drew:
"At first blush, it seems like the responsible thing to do, however, in discussion at the community level, it revealed that more than half of our municipalities do not have sufficient transit service to get them down to the GO. We in the north and in Clarington should not expect to pay parking when we don't have any other alternative."
Whitby Mayor Pat Perkins said that if such a fee were to be introduced, it would have to "provide incentive to users rather than appear as a cash grab," through measures such as premium parking spots for monthly transit pass holders. She added that such fees could also push vehicles into adjacent neighbourhoods and the parking lots of local businesses.
"By imposing costs to everyone, you'd find adjacent properties would be used for parking," said the Whitby mayor, citing similar issues that previously arose from a Pickering GO station. "If you charge people to use facilities, it will have the same impact on neighbours. It will be a cost to those neighbours to put in security to top people from using lots for free. It's counter-intuitive to go this route."
Regional Chair Roger Anderson said that the solution to the gridlock problem lies not with charging commuters to park but with aging infrastructure across the GTA.
"The six billion dollar deficit is because of old Toronto infrastructure," said the chair, citing the Allen expressway as among the problem areas.
"There's a whole bunch of issues if you charge for parking which may add to the problem. It's a catch 22."