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Climate Option for City Councils – Give Up Your Free Parking Passes

Underground car parking interior in basememnt floor shopping mall, office business center or residential apartment building. Covered vehicle garage indoor. urban transportation facilities background.

As cities continue to declare “climate emergencies,” call for “phasing out” fossil fuels and urge the public to bicycle to work or use transit, new research by think tank SecondStreet.org shows Canadian cities have given out over 5,409 free parking passes to council members and staff.

The passes include access to city parkades and parking lots as well as passes that allow council members to park for free at metered parking anywhere in the city.

“City politicians were maybe too busy focussing on how to get the public to stop using cars that they forgot to give up the free parking passes they take from city hall,” said Colin Craig, President of SecondStreet.org. “We thought we would flag this as a constructive option for cities to consider. If council members had to pay for parking it might encourage some to ride their bicycles or use transit instead.”

“We don’t begrudge elected officials for receiving a free parking spot, but if they’re going to declare a climate emergency and pressure the public to use transit, then giving up their free parking pass is a logical policy option to consider,” added Craig. “Obviously politicians sometimes have to drive around for their jobs, but so too do real estate agents, delivery drivers, handymen and all kinds of other professions. What councillors could do instead is expense individual parking expenses like everyone else.”

SecondStreet.org’s initial research in this area focussed on cities that have declared “climate emergencies,” called for “phasing out” natural gas electricity in Ontario or natural gas usage outright. Summaries from the freedom of information requests are summarized below (each city’s FOI response is available upon request and will be posted online):

Summary of Free Parking Situations by City

CityStatus
Victoria173 free passes, including 97 for local and nearby politicians
VancouverParking charges for staff suspended during the pandemic
Calgary

1,072 free passes provided to staff. However, a former employee noted:

“Councillors and their staff do receive parking passes for the City Hall parkade … Additionally, Councillors and most of their staff typically receive a “park as required” pass that allows them to park for free in on-street park plus zones in excess of time restrictions, in residential parking permit zones, and in loading zones. Councillors’ park as required passes also allow park plus parkade/lot parking. There is no taxable benefit or expensing for this pass as far as I know, they just get it if they ask for it.”

Winnipeg397 free passes, including 14 for council members. In the past, some councillors have also expensed passes that allow them to park at metered spots anywhere in the city.
Toronto1,267 free passes for staff plus one parkade pass for each member of council. Past media reports suggest council members might also receive a pass to park for free at metered street parking.
Mississauga201 free passes for staff
Kitchener15 free passes, including 12 for council members
KingstonThe Mayor’s office and all members of council (except “car free” councillor Stroud)
Hamilton568 passes, including 34 for council
Halton Hills51 passes, including all city councillors
Guelph410 passes, including 14 for  elected officials
Burlington379 passes, including 9 for the Mayor’s office
Brampton533 passes, including 37 for council (All staff given free parking at the time the request was filed due to COVID)
AjaxNo info available
Windsor327 passes, including 20 for city council
WaterlooNo info available
St. CatharinesThe following receive passes to park for free at all metered spots: Mayor and all City Councillors, Regional Chair and Councillors, Vice President and President of Brock University, Member of Provincial Parliament St Catharines, Member of Parliament St Catharines, Member of Provincial Parliament, Welland Mayor of Niagara Falls and the Acting CAO of Niagara Region
Niagara Falls16 free passes for members of council as well as the local MP, MPP and members of the regional council
PeterboroughNo info available

Media are encouraged to speak with individual cities for comment to determine:

– If any of the passes were provided for city vehicles (cities often exempt city vehicles from parking charges in their bylaws, but there may be exceptions)

– If all passes have been disclosed (e.g. Calgary’s disclosure doesn’t’ include council’s parkade and metered passes)

– If council members were not given “free passes,” did they expense them through their ward budgets?

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