Driving, parking and HonkMobile

The Preston Street BIA got itself in a (tiny) bit of trouble today. The Preston Street Cyclofest is happening this Sunday. The street will be shut down between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm for bicycling activities and some all around fun.

To help coordinate travel to and from cyclofest, the BIA suggested people use HonkMobile to rent out residential parking spots to people coming down to Little Italy. Unfortunately, this is illegal. According to city by-laws, you’re not allowed to turn your driveway into a commercial parking enterprise.

Upon learning this, the BIA issued a mea culpa and said that they wouldn’t promote the HonkMobile app again. The people behind HonkMobile were a little more… hostile, we’ll say. They called into question the credibility of city councillors, city staff and one of the city’s best reporters…basically calling a bunch of people either liars or incompetent.

There’s a natural tendency to compare HonkMobile to Uber, and there really are a lot of similarities. In fact, HonkMobile is living up to the claims that Uber made about just being a technology platform. That’s all HonkMobile really is. It’s an app. They don’t recruit people. They don’t vet parking spaces. They just give people the connection.

And in certain instances, their service is perfectly legal. Organizations (private or public) that are allowed to operate commercial parking lots can use HonkMobile for allotting spaces and collecting fees.

But there’s also a difference, HonkMobile isn’t disrupting a market that has been manipulated by a cartel. There is parking competition in Ottawa. And there are private lots around the city.

Further, parking begets parking, so HonkMobile isn’t really solving a parking problem, they’re adding to it.

Finally, though, the issue that Uber was fighting has (largely) been resolved by the city putting in regulations to allow expansion of the market. Guess what, we already have that with parking. The city is regularly increasing the supply of parking in the city.

What’s not allowed is turning your residential parking spot into a commercial spot. Similarly, you aren’t allowed to use your personal vehicle as a commercial vehicle…you’re allowed to turn your personal vehicle into a commercial vehicle (with special rules associated).

There are valid reasons to be concerned about turning residential land into ad hoc commercial parking. The city seems to be most concerned about lawns being torn up for extra parking spaces to sell. There are environmental and health reasons to have a certain amount of greenspace in our neighbourhoods.

To me, the bigger issue might be around inducing more parking and more traffic. If you start having a bigger supply of parking, you’ll start to encourage more people to drive to events. This might make sense at the EY Centre (not that the EY Centre necessarily makes sense), but in a central neighbourhood connected by buses, the O-Train and our bike network, this is not ideal.

(Right. Bikes. It’s a bike event. Maybe bike to it.)

The question, of course, is how much of a problem could this be? The first issue should–should–be solvable by strict zoning restrictions (but we know how well that works out). The latter might not be an issue in most areas.

Most areas. The Glebe used to see a lot of this sort of parking during football games. People would rent out their driveway or even their front lawn and make a few bucks at every game. The city, not wanting to encourage driving to RedBlacks games, has nixed this.

People in the Glebe could also rent out parking spots during the work week. There are a number of commercial buildings on Bank Street, and a lot of employees drive and then shuffle their cars around the various neighbourhood streets.

But traffic on Bank is picking up as Lansdowne (slowly) fills up and gets more popular. If we don’t eliminate any street parking and just add residential parking spaces to the mix, we’re just encouraging more people to drive rather than walk, bus or bike.

So, I’m not against re-visiting this issue. Maybe there’s no huge, city-wide problem of residential parking spot rentals, but we have to be careful. We’re trying (theoretically) to build up sustainable transportation, especially in our central areas, just adding a new supply of parking will do nothing to help that goal.

In the meantime, go to Cyclofest, but ditch the car.