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.”

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