Reserved parking allows for better management of inefficient use, not price gouging.

What does 100% reserved park and ride really mean?

On Wednesday, May 18 the city’s Transportation and Transit committee talked at length about the current and future state of the Park and Ride system in Calgary. A very thorough report was drafted by Niel McKendrick, you can read the whole thing here. Given the amount of delightful back-and-forth this has created, including pretty strong comments from Mayor Nenshi, I thought it would be a good idea to give some more detail on the decision not covered in the Herald article.

Some context: Our park and ride service is much higher than other Canadian cities, with 160 park and ride spaces per million riders, almost double the next highest Ottawa (85), and more than ten times Winnipeg’s 11 spaces per million riders. As it stands now we have 12,491 stalls which serve around 15 percent of the LRT system ridership. At each lot, Calgary Transit can allocate up to half of the stalls as reserved stalls, which all cost $85/month.

There were a number of recommendations in the report, but the one that has drawn the most news is this one:

4. Transition towards a system of 100 percent monthly reserved parking with differential pricing based on demand and offer a system of daily reserved parking that utilizes vacant monthly reserved spaces.

So what does this mean? The first thing to note in any of these recommendations is the “action” word, in this case transition. After much discussion, it was clear that this wording is used to allow for a slow, exploratory change in the management of the existing spaces, with the eventual goal (if everything goes as predicted) of having 100% reserved spots.

Clearing up some Myths

Before we move on to the “why” of this recommendation, I want to clear up a few perceptions that seem to be floating around:
All spots are going to cost the current $85/month fee. This was very specifically clarified as not true. Prices can be set based on demand at different lots (for example, the northeast part of the city sees relatively little park and ride use compared with other parts of the city). It was explicitly asked and answered in the meeting that this could still mean free spots at lots.

All spots are going to monthly reservation only. This is also not true. Day-of reservation was also explicitly discussed in the meeting, with current parking management technology opening all sorts of doors to various possible schemes, including I would imaging the possibility of “subleasing” your monthly space on a day you don’t use it.

This is going to cause less people to take transit. This one was also discussed at length and is likely untrue. The proposed plan is to service the same amount of park and ride customers, which falls around 15% (this was recommendation number 1 in the report). In a survey, the City found that a significant portion of people who park and ride would prefer to take transit to the station, but it is currently infeasible for them. By charging more (or more efficiently) for park and ride, we can improve the feeder service, which is what people want. This in turn can increase ridership.

Inefficiency in Action

I’ve talked before about my problems with park and ride, based mainly off of a simple mathematical contradiction laid out by professional transit consultant Jarrett Walkergood transit creates high land value, free (or cheap) parking assumes low land values.

There are great examples throughout the report of how the park and ride system is used inefficiently. For example, take a look at this graph of park and ride arrivals at the Tuscany station:

An example of the current inefficiencies with Calgary's Park and Ride [City of Calgary]

An example of the current inefficiencies with Calgary’s Park and Ride [City of Calgary]

The black line indicates spaces being taken up in the unreserved portion of the lot. Notice how they are all full well before 7 am. In terms of congestion and traffic management, these drivers are taking up stalls at a time when road congestion is still low, while people who arrive later must drive downtown (or return their cars and take a bus or bike). This does nothing to aid congestion in the downtown, which is one of the major goals of this park and ride project. It is a perfect example of what happens when you price cap stuff.

The red line shows reserved spots. Notice that they fill up only at around 10 am, since people do not feel that they have to rush to the lot to get their spot. This is a much more efficient use, but when placed next to unreserved spots it creates a ton of frustrations for drivers. Honestly, a 100% reserve system would eliminate that frustration, as it would change the nature of the park and ride system completely, instead of partially.


It’s clear from the current situation that something has to change. The report and proposal presented to the committee does a very thorough job of investigating what people want, and what might actually work. It considers the important transition from park and ride stalls to larger transit oriented development projects, and recommends also that there is potential for private sector parking to play a part in easing the burden. If we must have park and ride, let’s try to make it as efficient as possible.

Willem Klumpenhouwer

Willem is a PhD student in transportation planning and engineering at the University of Calgary, working on improving transit schedule design. In his spare time, Willem does programming projects and is a volunteer and improviser at the Loose Moose Theatre.

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