There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The cost of free parking

The American Public Transportation Association has released its monthly analysis of the benefits of riding transit and declares: "Even With Declining Gas Prices, Public Transit Users Save $9,596 Per Household Annually, Up $411 From Last Year."

If only it were true in Sacramento.

The problem is that a major part of this "savings" is based on the cost of parking.

"On average, according to the 2008 Colliers International Parking Rate Study, the national average for the monthly unreserved parking rate in a city’s downtown business district is $143. Over the course of a year, parking costs alone can amount to an average of $1,720."
Yes, there are lots in downtown Sacramento that charge that much: 6th and H streets is $175 monthly; the City Hall garage, $155; Capitol Garage at 10th and L,$180; and Downtown Plaza East Garage, $145.

But all of the other downtown lots charge less than $145. And the city even offers solo commuters special deals. The Old Sacramento parking garage offers people who arrive before 7:30 a.m. and leave after 5:30 p.m., a flat $4 fee all day. In addition, major employers within easy reach of transit in midtown and downtown provide employees free parking. The Sacramento Bee comes to mind. And I won't even bring up the acres and acres of free parking sprawling around the office parks of Rancho Cordova.

No, in Sacramento the price of parking is seldom a motivation to ride transit.

Here's my idea: The state should assess a fee on all parking spaces. The money raised from such a statewide fee would be used to provide a stable source of operating revenue for transit agencies. The money raised could also provide local governments with money to improve sidewalks and bike trails.

Free parking is not free. Everyone suffers from the congestion and pollution generated by solo-vehicle trips. With stable funding for transit, the service could be expanded to truly serve the needs of everyone. And everyone would benefit from such a transit system.

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