Parking drives up costs

Almost everyone who owns a car knows that parking has become more expensive in Vancouver over the past decade. But most of us don't make any connection between the rising price of parking and the cost of housing.

Vancouver parking consultant Paul Bunt is an exception. He advises developers on how many spaces they should include in their real-estate projects. And in a phone interview with the Georgia Straight, Bunt said that nowadays, each new underground parking stall costs approximately $50,000 in a new residential development. He is working on a project in Calgary where the cost is $60,000 per stall.

"I would say it's more than doubled in the last 10 years," Bunt said. "It is construction costs that have driven that."

So it shouldn't come as a surprise that developers are looking for ways to reduce the number of parking stalls. Concord Pacific, for example, offers buyers a lower price for condos at its Smart project in Gastown if they don't include a parking stall with their purchase. On Burnaby Mountain, developers in the UniverCity community near Simon Fraser University offer buyers a heavily discounted three-zone monthly transit pass, known as the Vancity Community Transit Pass, thanks to a $100,000 contribution from the Vancouver-based credit union.

It's included in strata fees at a discounted rate of $28 per month, plus a $50 application fee. A regular three-zone transit pass costs $130. The community transit pass is the first of its kind in Canada and is designed to reduce reliance on private automobiles.

TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie told the Straight that the transportation authority could offer this to residents of the UniverCity community because there was an opportunity to build ridership in the off-peak direction. "The buses would be headed up the hill in the morning with the students headed to class," he said, noting that the opposite is true in the afternoon.

Heather Tremain, CEO of reSource Rethinking Building, told the Straight that the $28 monthly transit pass is an "amazing deal". She said that her company, which specializes in green buildings, also included stalls for a car cooperative in Verdant, a 60-unit townhouse development in the UniverCity community.

"The city has to work with the developers on actually reducing the parking in buildings," Tremain said.

More than two years ago, Vancouver city council approved a bylaw allowing developers to drop the number of required parking stalls by three for every space allocated for a "co-operative car". Since then, rising gasoline prices and the rising cost of parking have resulted in a bonanza of business for the Co-operative Auto Network, which is headed by executive director Tracey Axelsson.

Axelsson told the Straight in a phone interview that CAN was operating for eight years by the time it purchased its 100th vehicle in June 2005. This October, she expects that CAN will have a fleet of 200 vehicles.

"Everyone's awareness increased probably around the time gas prices peaked above $1.10 [per litre]," she said. "With peak oil will come more and more people who are car-sharing, absolutely."

Driving the demand are developers. In 2003, CAN placed seven cars in a downtown project developed by Peter Wall and marketed by Bob Rennie. Axelsson said CAN also worked out an arrangement to provide four cars to people living in the Mole Hill development in the West End, which sharply reduced the need for parking stalls. She added that in addition to having vehicles at three other real-estate developments, CAN has signed at least 20 contracts to provide cars in projects that haven't been completed yet. Part of the reason has been that suburban municipalities are agreeing with developers on the need to reduce the number of parking stalls in buildings.

"The City of Burnaby has been great," Axelsson said. "New Westminster has been amazing. Surrey is about to come on-line offering this as well."

Bunt said that Vancouver has spent a fair amount of time refining parking standards in the past decade to reflect the fact that car-ownership rates are falling.

"There is more and more attention in the suburban areas for this same subject," he added. "That's uncommon."