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Do park-and-ride schemes lead to more congestion?

Posted by Chris Bateman / March 21, 2013

toronto parkingNew research out of the Netherlands suggests park-and-ride facilities at commuter rail stations may have the unfortunate effect of increasing road and vehicle use, according to a post over at Atlantic Cities.

GO Transit said last month it was considering introducing a parking charge to fund new infrastructure and bring it in line with the TTC and other transit companies. According to the Toronto Star, the TTC gets $10 million from each year from this revenue stream. Parking is currently free in all unreserved spaces at GO stations.

The results of the survey, gleaned from users of parking facilities by Dutch researcher Giuliano Mingardo, provide evidence that people who used to bike or use public transit for their entire journey were more likely to drive to a park and ride facility. People surveyed were also made more trips because the cost of travel was lower.

Increasing car usage appears to run against GO Transit's mandate to reduce congestion in the GTA. The study did find, however, that park-and-ride lots in the suburbs that snag commuters before they enter the core of a city performed well at reducing vehicle miles. Paid parking, Mingardo found, reduced some of the negative side-effects.

GO says it's "examining these issues" as part of an investment strategy it's due to deliver in June 2013 for the next wave of Big Move projects.

What are your experiences with GO parking? Would charging for parking encourage you to use alternative modes of transportation or simply force transit riders to make their entire journey by car?

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Image: "TTC Commuter Lot" by Tom Podolec/blogTO Flickr pool.



lizzy / March 21, 2013 at 08:52 am
It's gonna happen. I want improvements to transit and if this is a viable option, then it needs to be done.

Do commuters know that there are buses or shuttle buses in their local municipality that go to the stations? Maybe GO Transit should work with the local transit companies and let customers know that there are other options to get them to their stations rather than driving.

When I was taking the GO train downtown and I couldn't drive to the station, I took the bus (which cost 60 cents) and the bus stopped right outside the station.
Yes you have to give yourself a little more time and it limits you with commuting when you get back to the station. I think the people that can do it will.
But suburbia is full of a lot of lazy people who will just put up with paying the fee so they can drive in comfort.
RobK / March 21, 2013 at 08:57 am
It depends on what else is available at the park and ride spots. For example, I live right across the street from the Finch Bus Terminal and, while there is increased congestion because of Yonge Street, for the most part people know where the subway station parking lots are, and it can be orderly. What causes the congestion in this area are two things: taxi cab drivers who feel the street is theirs - not caring about anyone else in the area - and people who are dropped off at the closest subway entrance just before someone needs to turn onto Yonge. I find these parking places are effective. I used them when I lived in the suburbs.
iSkyscraper / March 21, 2013 at 08:58 am
GO is a weird animal, because it is essentially a postwar creation. So many of its stations are effectively green-field parking lots rather than century-old train stations in the middle of the cores of villages and towns (as they are on the New York and Chicago and Philadelphia commuter train systems). I'm not quite sure what to make of them and how they really should be optimized.

But to me that is the more interesting comparison, not some study from the Netherlands which has a completely different geospatial arrangement of cities and suburbs. (And seriously, no one is being displaced from cycling by using GO. We don't have that infrastructure yet.)
E. Toby Coe replying to a comment from lizzy / March 21, 2013 at 09:01 am
"But suburbia is full of a lot of lazy people who will just put up with paying the fee so they can drive in comfort."

Such judgement!

Here's the way I'd re-phrase it: "Suburbia and GO were usually planned independently of one another, and so it's often completely impractical for commuters to walk or take transit to the stations."
the lemur replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / March 21, 2013 at 09:14 am
'some study from the Netherlands which has a completely different geospatial arrangement of cities and suburbs'

Exactly. Commuter rail in the NL is basically just short-distance travel on the national rail network, in which very few stations have extensive car parking and almost all stations are fed by local transit in urban centres, i.e., very unlike GO.
Aaron / March 21, 2013 at 09:16 am
Sell off half the parking lots to condo developers so people can live near the stations. Charge for parking in the other half. Problem solved.
horizon / March 21, 2013 at 09:57 am
Im wondering if they charge for parking at Go train stations, what would stop ppl from starting to drive downtown and pay parking there. With the price of the train fee and parking it would probably cost just about the same to drive downtown and park. Or rent out a spot in a condo/business downtown monthly.
mememe / March 21, 2013 at 10:12 am
I'm not sure the study mentioned here is comparable or applicable to the situation in the GTA. I would suspect that the majority of commuters taking the GO do not reasonably have the option to take (municipal) transit to get into the city, and certainly not to bike in. In fact, ruling out GO/Via they would likely drive in.
So under those circumstances, I think the GO is definitely reducing congestion in the GTA.
E. Toby Coe / March 21, 2013 at 10:12 am
"GO is a weird animal, because it is essentially a postwar creation. So many of its stations are effectively green-field parking lots rather than century-old train stations in the middle of the cores of villages and towns"


Most GO stations are hard to get to.
Jason replying to a comment from horizon / March 21, 2013 at 10:20 am
That is a rhetorical question right? Of course I would drive and park downtown if they raise the cost. Taking the GO doesn't save a lot of time over driving and it's less convenient. It needs to be significantly cheaper to lure people out of their cars.

The things Joe Commuter cares about are convenience, cost, time and comfort.
Alex / March 21, 2013 at 11:29 am
Most of the suburbs GO serves have very limited transit to the station, so it isn't even an option. Example: Ajax transit serves maybe 40% of the town, max, the buses run once every half hour, and a bunch of them are scheduled to arrive at the GO station 5 minutes AFTER the train leaves. Biking is pretty well never an option in the suburbs, the distances are just far too great and there is no infrastructure in place for it (though since no one walks there you can just use the sidewalks). The Netherlands study isn't applicable in this situation. If GO charged for parking people would just drive all the way in.
iSkyscraper / March 21, 2013 at 01:20 pm
I re-read the study, it only applied to LRT stations. Has no bearing on the distances, times, alternatives and costs associated with commuter rail.

That said, GO will probably have to start charging for parking at some point. And people will pay it because they won't want to drive, not because it costs any less, but because of the nonstop gridlock. Look at how New York works -- many of its commuter rail stations have paid parking where you have to get a permit costing $300 to $600 dollars a year, and yet the waitlist for permits can be years long. Others have lots with daily fees of around $6. Chicago is similar, if a bit cheaper.

So yes, it will still happen, and it's going to cost money. And people will line up to pay it because that's what happens in big successful cities with huge populations and an overloaded road and transit infrastructure.
Ling Gu / March 21, 2013 at 03:16 pm
While I think GO will eventually charge a parking fee, it's important to note that public transit within the suburbs - where the stations are located - is fairly lacking. Bus routes, schedules, and fares in suburbia simply aren't as good as what exists in Toronto (despite the serious issues present with the TTC).

But GO Transit is absolutely necessary to reduce highway traffic; the thousands of daily riders point to its necessity. I used the GO train every day for more than thirteen years to commute to and from work (until I moved into the city), and still use it, as I don't own a vehicle. And now my brother rides that same train.
the lemur replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / March 21, 2013 at 03:17 pm
The study's not about LRT stations at all: it looked at P&R facilitie at NS (national railways) stations in and around Rotterdam and The Hague. Some of the ones in Rotterdam were also metro stations. That's as close as it got to LRT.
bob replying to a comment from Jason / March 21, 2013 at 03:40 pm
No you wouldn't.

This is some sort of threat that people in the suburbs always make but will never follow through on.

You would not decide to drive and park downtown if GO raised prices but a few pesos.

1 - have fun driving in and out of the city during rush hour... Once you realize that your monthly gas bill jumps considerably you will change your mind.

2- Even if the gas and the pain of rush hour doesn't get you, parking downtown will. Im sure that you are willing to pay $25+ every week day to park your shit box of a car downtown.
Allurban / March 22, 2013 at 12:47 am
Last year I participated in the Shuttle Challenge (, mounted a data reader onto my dashboard and connected it to the OBDII (Onboard Diagnostic) port.

Now, every time I drove I could see how much each trip cost...measured in terms of money spent or fuel use or percentage of time idling.

I learned some very interesting things ... most importantly that my 5km trip to the GO station used 60-70c worth of fuel (cold starts and short trips burn a lot of fuel and the typical GO park & ride commuter does this twice a day.).

The other important thing I learned was that no matter what I did, around 20-25% of each trip was spent idling and wasting fuel. So, I started turning off the car at red lights (especially those long 3phase traffic signals) and saved money.

Taking the car costs money already...even if the parking is 'free' it still costs you.
Andrew / March 22, 2013 at 02:24 pm
Charging for parking at GO stations won't reduce ridership because many of the parking lots are overflowing. If you don't arrive before 7am you will find that the lot is full. Charging for parking means that people who arrive later can find a space (for a price) while others decide to take the bus to avoid the parking fee.
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