City hall has an arbitrary, high-handed side, one that’s painfully apparent in matters of parking.

 

Ask the parishioners of St. Hyacinth Church, who for 20 years during services parked across the street in the lot of an apartment building owned by the church – until this year, when the city informed them this violated bylaws. It didn’t matter that the church owned the property. It was a residential parking lot and couldn’t be used for church parking, and that’s that. Court dates and a personal intercession by the mayor on the church’s behalf ensued.

 

Now an online business, parkinmydriveway.com, is getting a taste of bylaw bullying. Their idea, already successfully tried in other jurisdictions, is to connect the owners of driveways sitting empty with people who need a parking space.

 

After initially telling the website’s owners that everything was fine, the city subsequently reversed course, citing a bylaw prohibiting the use of private driveways for commercial use.


Applied broadly enough, this prohibition could make yard sales and lemonade stands an offence as well. And it’s probably news to the countless people who already privately rent out their driveways on a daily basis, or Glebe residents who have for years erected signs advertising parking during events at Lansdowne Park without any bylaw hassle. The potential volume of transactions enabled by the Internet seems to be the real issue here.


Why? My semi-educated guess is that the city doesn’t like competition. Parking is a significant source of revenue, and there’s always a tension between the city’s legitimate job of keeping the traffic moving and the temptation to fatten municipal coffers.


Our shiny new solar-powered pay and display parking machines, among their other purported advantages, are expected to bleed motorists for another $1.7 million a year.


We already pay more for parking in Ottawa than almost anywhere else in the country. Only Toronto and Calgary gouge worse. This cost is kept high partially by limiting the supply of spaces. Of Ontario’s large cities, we have the fewest municipal parking spaces per resident, and that leaves many drivers at the mercy of private lots, some of whom opportunistically jacked their rates on the first day of the ’08 bus strike.


The city’s attitude to parkinmydriveway.com’s cooperative, low-cost parking solution almost certainly has more to do with protecting lucrative turf than any legitimate traffic control or land use objectives. Whose driveway is it, anyway?