Parking Costs Poison Life
Mary and I were driving downtown because it's difficult to rush between medical appointments on the TTC. And so we found ourselves at Bay and Bloor, a black hole when it comes to parking.
Since I had an emergency engagement with an oral surgeon to chop the ruins of a large molar out of my jaw, we decided she would park a few blocks away and we would rendezvous through cell phones.
Then Mary spotted that Toronto Parking Authority garage that stretches between Cumberland and Yorkville just east of Bay. It's only $2.50 an hour, she said. I doubted that. I had some ancient bad history with that garage but I had forgotten the details.
But any port in a storm, because my molar ordeal was now only minutes away. So we drove in, and I saw the charge was really $2.50 for each half hour. Mary then gave that wifely retort about tightwads.
We asked about handicapped parking. We have the necessary permit because both of us walk like drunks. The only attendant in sight said he didn't have anything to do with the garage, just the car wash.
And so we went round and round, occasionally meeting drivers coming down the up ramps. The TPA boasts there are 1,036 spots in "automated" garage #15, and we discovered a vehicle in every spot.
So we descended, this time again meeting cars going the wrong way. We arrived at the Cumberland exit and couldn't figure out how to get out. The TPA devotes more signage to touting the automatic operation than in how to pay.
Finally, with the aid of drivers jammed behind us, we inserted a credit card - we always carry a couple because TPA machines have a habit of randomly rejecting one - and found we paid $2.50 for 10 minutes of driving in circles.
That works out to $15 an hour, which is high even by the gouging standards of downtown Toronto. No wonder there has been a flight of business and commerce to the free parking of the suburbs.
It's bizarre that I have to give basic instruction to the TPA and its 20 garages, including one of the largest in the world under Nathan Phillips Square, but it is not rocket science for drivers to be told at the entrance when a lot or garage is full. Perhaps the TPA should stop patting itself on the back as a modern and "green" operation just long enough to actually deliver more service to its often captive customers.
Why parking is so sophisticated in some parts, you can drive down an expressway in Beijing
and be told on a roadside sign that there are three empty spots in the garage at the next exit. The TPA couldn't even tell me the garage was full, and then overcharged me to boot.
What is happening in this Yorkville-Cumberland garage is a class example of automation run amuck. Just think of the golden gush of revenue into the city treasury from 1,036 spots renting for $2.50 a half hour. The TPA certainly can afford to have a couple of people walking around keeping an eye on things and helping frustrated drivers trying to shove bills into the credit card slot (which the TPA admits used to happen a great deal when it started this dumb idea avoiding cash.)
With true unemployment probably running around 15%, when you consider all those who have given up or never started the search, I don't understand rich outfits cheating us in basic service with dumb automation that has to be prodded through the steps like a dumb kid in kindergarten. There are plenty of people hungry for work.
It used to be that automation was fun. As a teenager, I hitchhiked to Manhattan and my first stop was in an Automat where you fed quarters into slots and lifted up a little glass door in a wall of boxes and took out a sandwich or a piece of pie.
Automats have vanished. I suspect, however, that fast-food operators would dump their minimum wage staff if Automats were more efficient. But automation often isn't. It just saves the operator money.
The Automats certainly didn't deliver service. But then, who does?