Maple and Rutherford GO Transit stations on the Barrie line will be the next on the Toronto regional rail system to get multi-level parking garages, holding 1,200 more cars each, doubling their parking capacities at a likely cost of over $80m. Construction of the above-grade structures will commence in 2018.

Steven Del Duca, Ontario's Minister of Transportation at the announcement of new station parking

The garages are part of an on-going programme of parking construction to deal with anticipated increased commuter demand from significant speed and frequency improvements in the coming years, as part of the province's ambitious Regional Express Rail programme. Almost un-noticed, Metrolinx has become North America’s largest parking provider, with 70,000 spaces, the great majority of which are free to use. This parking project and others like it, both planned and already built, are also a drain on Metrolinx's resources and may in the end be unsustainable. 

GO Transit's 2013 parking and access plan reveals, "Over 50% of station parking lots are at or near capacity", despite a building programme that has added more than 31,000 parking spots since 2003. GO Transit rail ridership is forecast to grow by 43% in AM peak demand from 2011 to 2021 and by a further 12% between 2021 and 2031", so if riders continue to arrive and park in the same proportions as now, the plan states, "GO Transit would need approximately 35,000 to 40,000 new parking spaces across the network to support the anticipated ridership growth to 2031." Those projections do not take into consideration any of the proposals for further service improvement outlined since 2013 (SmartTrack).

GO Transit ridership and parking supply projections

At an open meeting at Ryerson's City Building Institute that we covered in September, Metrolinx’s director of regional planning, Antoine Belaieff acknowledged, “more and more we’re running out of land". More surface parking is therefore increasingly difficult to build. It also makes accessing stations by foot more difficult and impedes mixed use development close to stations. Building new parking garages like those serving Maple and Rutherford is not cheap. The projects are have not been tendered yet but historically such garages cost $35,000 to 40,000 per space, and they do not last forever. According to Metrolinx's own figures, the "useful life" of a parking lot is 20 years. They also cost "$150-200 per space per year to maintain not including preventative maintenance" (surface parking costs about $100 per year).

GO Transit does not break out maintenance costs for parking separately in its accounts but assuming the ten parking garages it has presently hold 12,000 cars, total maintenance costs might presently be around $7m, of which half the cost is covered by people paying for reserved bays. This cost could easily double by 2031 if Metrolinx continued to build at the same rate and most of the additional vehicle capacity was added using parking garages.

Metrolinx is not blind to these problems; it has three options it is currently considering and none of them would involve a 50% growth in parking capacity between now and 2031. Its "business as usual" plan (which it describes as "nominally supporting other modes" of arrival) would see it build 25-30,000 spaces, hoping that the proportion of weekday peak boarders driving and parking could drop from 59% to 44%.

How GO Transit riders arrive at stations now, and how it needs to change (source: Metrolinx)

At the other extreme, Metrolinx is considering a "Big Changes and Partnerships" model, which would see parking provision grow by only five to seven thousand spaces and "assumes new parking management measures across the network to incent use of other modes". Parking use control measures mentioned in the document include expanding the proportion of paid parking, expanding the amount of carpool parking, and cordoning off some parking during peak morning period. Alternative ways to increase parking spaces being considered include the promotion of peer to peer parking space rental schemes, sharing parking with nearby businesses, and remote parking lots connected by shuttles.

A revised draft plan to address future parking needs will be presented to the Metrolinx board in December. If you have feedback, you can leave comments in the space provided below, discuss and refine your ideas in our forums, and/or email