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

Friday, March 6, 2009

Cash benefits of taking transit

The American Public Transportation Association is out with its latest calculation of the money that transit riders save over ordinary commuters.

"A public transportation rider can achieve an average annual savings of $8,498 by taking public transit instead of driving, based on March 5, 2009 gas prices and the unreserved parking rate," according to the March 6 press release.

In addition, employers who offer cash incentives for workers to ride transit can now increase that benefit from the previous maximum of $120 a month to $230 a month, thanks to the "stimulus" package passed by Congress and signed by the president. That increase brings the transit "benefit" to parity to the maximum "parking" benefit that employers are allowed to give.

The $708 a month that APTA suggests transit riders save is based on the cost of parking and the March 5 gas price of $1.933 as reported by AAA.

The gas price here in Sacramento is about 20 cents a gallon greater, so the savings is that much more. The problem is that parking is too cheap in Sacramento.

APTA's calculation is based on a $143 monthly rate for unreserved parking. Monthly parking in downtown Sacramento ranges from $185 to $115, with early bird daily rates as low as $4.

The fact that parking is comparatively cheap in the city of Sacramento and essentially free in the unicorporated surrounding region greatly undermines the incentive for people to leave their cars at home.

My favorite solution remains a "fee" on all parking spaces that would be assessed against the owners of the spaces. These businesses would be free to charge for parking to recover the fee or eat the cost as an incentive for people to shop their business. But the income from the parking fee would be used to pay for transit operations and improvements in bike and pedestrian safety.

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