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

Monday, July 27, 2009

Why free parking is just not affordable any more

Perhaps what I had to say had some influence. But the only thing going for my point is the desperate position the Sacramento Regional Transit District finds itself in.

My topic was the pilot program that will require a $1 fee to use the RT parking lots at the Watt/I-80, Watt West and Roseville Road light rail stations, the final lots on the Blue Line.

Letting anyone park for free is just not fair. Subsidizing commuters who drive to ride light rail wasn't fair in April, when the board failed to break a tie, killing a staff proposal to institute parking fees at all RT lots. And under the district's new "no transfer" fare system, free parking is now doubly unfair.

Here's what I tried to explain in my three minutes before the board Monday.

The new fair structure will work like this: A person who takes a bus to light rail, will pay $5 for a one-way trip. A person who drives to the RT lot and catches the same train, will pay just $2.50.

The roundtrip charge for the park-and-ride user is $5.

The roundtrip charge for the person who leaves a car at home and takes the bus is $10. Since a daily pass, which allows unlimited rides for a calendar day, is just $6, that's what the district expects to collect from those people who either choose not to drive or can't drive.

So RT will be paying people to drive to the lots in order to save a buck.

Most of Monday's meeting was taken up with a public hearing on proposed service reductions. Ten percent of the system was targeted, including elimination of train service after 9 p.m.

Nothing will be finalized until next month, when the staff will present the board with its interpretation of the direction it received Monday. And that meeting will likely turn into a bargaining session like last month, where board members will trade someone else's service in order to protect the service of a constituent.

Parking just can't be free when cuts as deep as have been proposed are on the table. Yes, charging for parking may move people into neighboring streets or into commercial parking lots to avoid the fee. But the district can't let scofflaws be the deciding factor here.

Do Don Nottoli and the other board members so adamant about not charging for parking appreciate the alternative? Is it possible for someone who doesn't ride transit, who already sees Sacramento's system as inadequate for their transportation needs, to appreciate why charging for parking at every lot must come first before any cuts in service?

I made my pitch to the board. The board unanimously ignored me.

Steve Cohn offered that the parking fee proposal might come back before the board. I think I'd buy a lottery ticket before I'd bet that this board can find a majority of votes needed to charge for parking. I'd certainly have more chance with the lottery.

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