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A proposed 50-cent rate hike in most of Toronto's on-street parking meters will help drivers find a coveted downtown spot, thanks to supply and demand, the head of the Toronto Parking Authority says.

"I don't think there is going to be any kind of a backlash," Maurice Anderson, the parking authority's president, said yesterday of the hike, which comes before the planning committee tomorrow and must still be approved by city council. "I think 50 cents is reasonable."

The rates for the most expensive spots on downtown streets - there are 770 of them - are to rise to $3.50 an hour from $3. Mr. Anderson said the hike will help ensure that drivers can find on-street spaces when they need them for short-term errands such as shopping.

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"What it's going to do, hopefully, is create some turnover," Mr. Anderson said.

The TPA tries to set prices so that a small percentage of on-street spots remain vacant, keeping rates high enough to force drivers hoping to park for longer into off-street lots.

Mr. Anderson pointed to the concept's success in the Beaches, where, he said, higher on-street parking prices have unclogged Queen Street East on busy summer weekends, forcing day trippers or employees of local businesses to park in off-street lots and freeing up on-street spots for shoppers or restaurant-goers.

While Mr. Anderson argued that parking authority's overall price structure hasn't changed since 1999, preamalgamation parking prices in many parts of the city (as low as 50 cents an hour) were gradually raised to the TPA's set levels over that time. And in 2004, rates were hiked in the downtown when the parking authority created a more expensive zone to keep up with price increases in off-street lots, to ensure turnover in coveted downtown on-street parking spots.

There are two other reasons behind the proposed hike, Mr. Anderson said. One is inflation: The new rates, on average, represent a 30-per-cent increase from 1999, the parking authority says, which compares to inflation over that time of about 25 per cent. Mr. Anderson said another hike is unlikely for at least the next five years.

The parking authority is also spending $10-million to retrofit meters with credit-card readers, making this a convenient time to reprogram the meters for the rate hike, which itself will cost about $1-million, he said.

Exempt from the price hike will be 4,000 meters in low-traffic areas, such as along the Lake Shore in Etobicoke, where the lowest $1-an-hour rate will remain in effect.

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Another potential sweetener is a move to extend a three-hour parking limit across the board, replacing the two-hour limit now in effect during the day in many areas.

Lawyer John Weingust, who has gone to court to challenge the city's right to charge for parking and who ran a fringe campaign for mayor last year, said the price hike was unacceptable. "It's just another cash grab," Mr. Weingust said. Big-city prices

The city's on-street parking prices are "consistent" with those in other Canadian cities, considering difference in population and demand, the parking authority says. Here's how the hourly rates compare:

Vancouver: $1 to $4

(with an increase to $5 expected)

Calgary: $1 to $3.50

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Montreal: $1 to $3

Ottawa: $2.50

Quebec City: $2

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