Parking demand plummeted after COVID-19 and it’s not picking up

At the start of the pandemic, office parking lots emptied out as office workers began working from home. But more than two and a half years later, the demand for parking still hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Ralph Bond of BA Consulting estimates that office parking demand across Canada is still down 25 to 30 per cent of what it was before COVID-19.

“There was quite a drastic drop initially, but generally, parking is picking back up. But for office workers — it’s a lot slower because people are still tending to work from home and so the demand for office parking, as opposed to retail parking, is still quite low,” he told CTV’s Your Morning on Thursday.

Even as pandemic restrictions have largely lifted, remote work has stuck around at many workplaces, and Bond believes office parking demand may never return to pre-pandemic levels.

“In my office, we have 100 employees and, for example, there’s only 20 or 25 of them (working in the office) at any one time and so that’s lowered the demand for parking,” he said.

That’s bad news for parking lot operators, who have had to get creative in order to sustain their businesses.

“If they’re surface lots, they’ve looked at actually holding drive-in movies, concerts, children’s events, entertainment events. In parking garages, some people are starting to look at using that parking for storage space or for delivery vehicles if the parking isn’t utilized,” Bond said.

“I think they’re taking a wait-and-see approach and, depending on how it unfolds, you may see people also reluctant to build new parking before they’re sure they can make good use of what they already have,” he added.

In most cities across Canada, a minimum number of parking spots per building is legally required under zoning regulations, but a growing number of municipalities are considering eliminating these mandatory parking minimums to reduce building costs and promote greener methods of transportation. Bond says an underground parking lot can cost upwards of $100,000 per spot to build.

In June 2020, Edmonton councillors voted to remove parking minimums city-wide, while Toronto eliminated parking minimums for new residential developments in December 2021. Similar measures are also being considered in Regina and Vancouver.

If parking demand doesn’t pick up again, Bond says many of these parking lots will end up being redeveloped into something new.

“The parking surface parking lots — I refer to them as ‘land banks.’ Eventually, something else will be built on them and then the difficult decision will be how much underground parking to put in place,” he said. 

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