BART Board Will Soon Debate Raising Parking Fees

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Raising the price of parking is a contentious issue anywhere, but
it’s particularly divisive for the BART Board of Directors, who may be
debating a proposal from their finance committee as soon as next
Thursday’s board meeting
to raise parking fees to mitigate their
soaring budget deficit.

"Free parking is not free for
BART," said director Tom Radulovich.  "Not the opportunity cost of the
land, not the cost of operating the parking facilities.  BART has been
really dumb about how we use the land around our stations in the past
and now we have to decide what BART stations are going to be when they
grow up.

Radulovich bemoaned the fact that BART still
sees itself in many areas as a park-and-ride commuter rail service,
when much of the land around the stations could be utilized for
transit-oriented development.  He suggested that directors representing
more suburban districts have historically been reluctant to charge
anything for parking for fear that their constituents will react
adversely and vote them off the board.

Given the successes of
transit villages like Fruitvale, BART directors who want to see change
have positive examples to point to.  BART is currently designing,
building, or planning to build 11 new transit villages, some in
suburban areas, like Pleasanton and Walnut Creek (PDF).

"I
think we have made some significant progress with a lot of transit
villages and with a policy that is on the leading edge in the Bay Area
in making better land use decisions," said BART spokesperson Linton
Johnson.  "Parking is the third rail of public transit and these guys
are taking bold steps.  We’re talking suburban directors who have taken
bold and unpopular steps to make these choices."

With a budget
deficit expected to top $120 million in the next four years, some of
BART’s directors have suggested that the agency raise parking fees at
the 15 stations where there is already a daily charge and impose a new
fee in the remaining 28 stations that currently provide copious free
parking. 

As director Lynette Sweet explained, it would
cost BART $2-3 million per station to set up the required parking
equipment at stations that don’t currently charge for parking.  Sweet
argued that the money required for implementation might seem high, but
that they would recoup the cost per station in some cases before the
first year was out, particularly if they charge prices that are closer
to market-rate.

According to BART’s figures, the cost to
operate and maintain parking is between $1-2 per space, per day, which
means the agency subsidizes parking for its riders.  Additionally, with
capital costs of $20,000 per space for surface lots and $30,000 per space for garages, the outlay is substantial.

"Why
should we pay you to park in our lots?" asked Sweet.  "Anyone knows in
San Francisco if you can find all-day parking for a buck, it will be
full by 5 am.  Look at West Oakland, we charge 5 dollars a day there and it’s
full by 6 am.  The residents of Contra Costa county drive in and park
there."

Radulovich pointed to West Oakland as a perfect
example of how far from market rate BART’s parking policy is. Even
though it is the most expensive parking in their network, private lots
around the West Oakland station charge $6 or $7 dollars a day and do
brisk business.  "BART has huge amounts of parking in West Oakland.  In
any other city, West Oakland would be real mixed use area."

Sweet
said that West Oakland is transitioning to become a de facto transit
village even without an official program from BART, as private
developers have realized the untapped value of developing near the
transit hub.  Sweet also highlighted MacArthur Station as a success
story, with plans to remove half the existing parking supply
to make way for a transit village, a move requested originally by the
neighborhood and one she maintains is hugely popular.

Radulovich
argued the agency should do more to use parking fees to increase
transit service to and from stations, particularly during peak periods.
 

"Why do we subsidize the least efficient mode of access,
the most expensive, least sustainable, the one that creates the worst impacts on
our neighbors, and the one proven to benefit our wealthiest riders?  Our own
statistics show that it’s the mode used most by our most affluent
riders.  We’re subsidizing the people who can most afford to get to our
stations.  If it costs us $2 a day to subsidize parking spaces, why don’t
we subsidize buses at $1 a day so that we support the people who can least
afford to ride BART."

Johnson defended BART’s current formula
for using 25 percent of current parking revenues to improve access to
BART stations, pointing out that it’s geared toward generating new bicycle
lockers, shuttle service, removing trash, art projects, making the
parking lots and areas look better, and for leveraging additional
money.  He also noted that last year BART spent $11 million on
paratransit, $2.5 million on express buses, and $2.5 million on Muni
and AirBART.

"I’m not sure why BART should do more,"
said Johnson.  "Why aren’t bus operators paying more to get people to BART?  I
think we pour in as many resources as possible to feeder bus services. 
It’s not just a BART problem.  I think it’s unfair to take the issue
that BART should do more because there are a lot of other players who
should do more.  Counties could play a bigger role, local businesses
could do more." 

BART Board Director Tom Blalock will
ultimately decide if the committee parking proposal will be included
in the agenda for the March board meeting.  According to Sweet the
issue arose late, so procedurally it might be pushed to April. 

She
laughed when asked if she thought this topic would be a big debate.

"I
think it’s going to be a very contentious meeting.  Parking meetings
always are.  But I know how much it costs to park in San Francisco, so you don’t
get any sympathy from me when you say you don’t want to charge your
constituents.”

  • When we consider that under the current system all BART riders are helping to subsidize those BART commuters who drive to get to BART, it’s clear that paying for parking is an issue of equity.

  • Katherine Roberts

    Yeah, if I could get a discount for the amount it costs to pay for all the parking spaces I’ve never used — and that includes lighting, upkeep, security, repaving, cleaning, etc. — then I’m fine with keeping parking fees they way they are. Otherwise, they should raise the fares to more accurately reflect what each BART rider’s trip actually costs.

    –Katherine

  • It’s outrageous that BART’s spokesman would suggest that bus agencies should spend their precious resources (much depleted by BART’s disproportionate and unjust regional funding allocation) serving wealthy BART commuters with so-called feeder routes. Newsflash: BART is not the end-all and be-all of public transportation in the Bay Area, even if the suburban politicians who control our regional transportation funding seem to think so.

  • Bravo Tom.

    The car to BART ridership will whine that they are “getting screwed for trying to do the right thing”, but this should fall on deaf ears. Similar to the AIG bonus babies, they won’t go scurrying back to the Bay Bridge, parking at West Oakland – the most expensive – would be eaten up by a toll alone if one drives to SF, not to mention the cost of parking in SF.

    Retail businesses subsidize parking to attract profitable customers – BART is not making a profit off of their customers so this argument doesn’t wash.

    In theory, raising the cost of parking would drive the demand for better feeder service, which in my opinion should be spearheaded by BART. AC transit and County Connection also need to serve people who aren’t going to BART, since these feeders don’t run on a profit BART should contribute – since BART saves money by reducing parking need.

  • Once we have a meeting date, everyone should convince anyone they know with a car to park in and fill up all the lots around the meeting room. Frustrated park-and-riders from East CoCo and the Peninsula will miss the public comment period as they circle for hours looking for a parking spot 🙂

  • Pat

    Or just double park your bike in two parking spots

  • “As director Lynette Sweet explained, it would cost BART $2-3 million per station to set up the required parking equipment at stations that don’t currently charge for parking.”

    As someone who has spent years in the parking management and equipment business, I say WTF?!

    A solar powered “pay by space” parking meter that accepts coins, bills, and credit cards costs $10-20,000 each, fully installed, including the back end software system to manage a large network of machines. Even at the highest $20k price, $2mil would buy 100 of them – and no BART parking facility is anywhere near to being large enough to require 100 multi-space parking meters. 10-40 machines should be sufficient to cover each BART station lot, maybe even less if you just put the machines in the station itself (instead of in the lot, which is less convienent, but protects the machines from the elements and vandals).

    So BART director, if you are making you decision on a cost/benefit analysis, your costs are WAY off – and I’m more likely to vote you out for your shoddy decision making process than I am for having to pay to park at BART.

  • Tom is on target! The exhorbitant cost to build, patrol, and maintain car parking spaces is susidized while BART must scrounge for funds to install a few hundred secure bicycle lockers, whose users pay a fee.

    According to BART’s outdated 2002 West Oakland Station Access Plan, “The majority of passengers that use this station do not live in West Oakland.” The plan’s map of “AM Weekday Home Origins” shows that many drivers bypass outlying BART stations in Contra Costa County to board at West Oakland. BART-operated lots at outlying stations that only charge a dollar or are free are of course filled very early. BART should stop encouraging unsustainable travel patterns that burden the entire transportation system. Make parking available at suburban stations for those willing to pay for the convenience!

    BART parking at Fruitvale BART is only $1/day, while nearby private lots charge between $3 to $12.

  • zig

    “It’s outrageous that BART’s spokesman would suggest that bus agencies should spend their precious resources (much depleted by BART’s disproportionate and unjust regional funding allocation) serving wealthy BART commuters with so-called feeder routes.”

    Not only outrageous but disconnected from reality. Even if they wanted to provide excellent feeder service it is impossible to compete with BART’s parking policy. And lets not even get into the putative fare transfer policies.

    Look at the origins for people in a place like Concord station and you see many more or less drive down the street to the station.

    Or if you lived in Alameda would you pay $75 a month for your AC pass to wait for a infrequent bus so to BART?

  • As a BART rider who does not own a car, I agree with what everyone says about the inequity of free and low-cost BART parking. But I think that we should also point out that parking fees would benefit people who live where they cannot get to BART without driving.

    Because the parking is free or low-cost, lots fill up very early in the morning, with some spaces taken by people who don’t need to drive. If you take a 6AM train and you live a couple of blocks from BART, so you can easily walk or bicycle to the station, you might as well drive there if the parking is free. As a result, there are no spaces left by 8AM, and some people drive all the way to work because there is no parking for them at the BART station.

    BART could benefit from Shoupian pricing of its parking: set the price high enough that there are always a few vacant spaces. The BART system would benefit from the higher revenues. People who don’t take BART now because of lack of parking would begin to take BART. Overall ridership would increase, as some people who now drive to the station shift to other modes and some people begin to take BART who now are deterred by lack of parking.