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A truck enters a parking garage in the rear of a Gastown condominium at 60 West Cordova in Vancouver June 4, 2012.Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

Vancouver, one of the most expensive housing cities in the world, is filled with empty, unused space in apartment buildings.

Why? They're parking stalls.

As residents of the region buy fewer cars, opt to take transit if it's nearby, and travel more with bikes and car-shares, thousands of parking spaces are going unused, says the survey of residential parking in the region done by Metro Vancouver.

"Strata apartments across the region are consistently 'over-parked' in the range of 18-35 per cent," says the report, which is aimed at encouraging municipalities and builders to make changes like reducing minimum parking requirements for builders near transit or selling parking stalls as a separate add-on to condos.

The report also encourages planners and developers to factor in the street parking that's already available, to set lower numbers for the maximum amount of parking that can be included in a building, and to build more rental apartments near transit.

The over-parking is not just a waste of space and an expensive add-on for developers, who have to build the stalls at a cost of $20,000-$45,000 each.

It's also an extra burden on renters and owners already having a hard time getting by, the report says.

People who buy cheaper condos near transit to save some money by not owning a car end up subsidizing the cost of parking in the building anyway, since it's factored into the overall cost.

That's especially true for renters, who are even less likely to use parking stalls in their buildings since they are less likely to have cars. The Metro Vancouver study, which surveyed 1,600 households and the parking garages of 80 apartments, found that only 60-70 per cent of stalls in renter-only buildings are used.

"This means that those least able to pay and least apt to use parking are often paying for the cost of parking anyway because it is included in their rent," says the report, which will be discussed by regional politicians at Metro's meeting on Friday.

But while the building industry is generally in favour of reducing costs, its members warn that reducing parking isn't always as straightforward as report-writers make it sound.

Sometimes, even when people live close to transit, they insist on having space for their cars.

"We have a project in Maple Ridge that is 200 metres away from the West Coast Express, but the buyers don't see that as a reason to go without cars," said Tracie McTavish, president of Rennie Marketing, which sells thousands of condo units around the region every year.

The situation is quite different closer to the city core. In the Marine Gateway project, at the south end of Cambie Street in Vancouver, 110 buyers among the 414 total bought condos without attached parking stalls, saving them about $20,000 apiece.

Mr. McTavish said the way the municipal process works makes it hard to adjust the parking to build only for the residents who want it.

Municipalities require developers to spell out how many parking spots they will build before a project is marketed. So, even if many buyers said they didn't want parking stalls, it's too late at that point for a developer to remove them without going through the difficult process of asking for variance in the building plan.

Developers also don't like the Metro Vancouver suggestion that there should be lower numbers set for maximum parking spaces in a building. Buildings with more families or more high-end units may need higher levels of parking, said Patrick Santoro, a policy analyst for the Urban Development Institute.

One recommendation the UDI did wholeheartedly support: getting rid of the excess requirements for visitor parking.