Editorial: Why Raise Fares When Metro’s Building Even More Free Parking?

Foothill Gold Line's Azusa-Alameda Station not-so-innovative site plan - 200 more parking spaces coming on line next year. Source: Gold Line Construction Authority website
Foothill Gold Line’s Azusa-Alameda Station site plan means 200 more surface parking spaces due to open in 2015. Source: Gold Line Construction Authority website

A couple of weeks ago, I posted an editorial asking Why Raise Metro Fares While Giving Away Metro Parking? At the time, I totaled parking for Metro’s BRT and rail lines at 19,450 parking spaces. Despite Metro’s plan to increase transit fares, the agency has no plan to increase parking charges. Metro gives more than 9 out of 10 spaces away for free. I did a conservative estimate of Metro’s parking revenue potential to be at least $3.5 million per year.

Turns out that it gets worse. Or better, depending on your point of view.

Metro’s building lots and lots of lots.

There are 2,435 more Metro parking spaces under construction. When the Gold Line Foothill extension opens in 2015, Metro will break the 20,000 mark with 1,525 new parking spaces. Also in 2015, Expo phase 2 will add 580 new parking spaces. In 2019, the Crenshaw Line will add 330 new parking spaces.

Metro’s overall total rail/BRT parking spaces will climb to 21,885. Using the same very conservative assumptions, I estimate that, with the additional spaces, Metro’s parking revenue potential will be at least $4.3 million per year.

After the earlier article, via Twitter and via the Source, Metro responded with the “doesn’t go far enough” argument:

Of course, $3.5 million doesn’t cover the projected budget shortfalls that Metro is projecting and using to justify the fare increases (the shortfalls begin at $36 million in FY 2016 and then rise).

I’ve always found this sort of assertion to be disingenuous. It’s sort of like being in a boat that’s leaking in five places, and refusing to fix one hole, because it doesn’t fix all of them at once.

Metro is claiming a pretty leaky boat. Paying to build and maintain tens of thousands of free parking spaces is a drain on the agency. It’s inefficient, fiscally irresponsible, and poor public policy.

I reiterate my call for Metro leadership to at least get official data from Metro staff on this issue:

The parking revenue processes might get underway with a board motion directing Metro staff to report on parking revenue. What does it cost to build, operate, and maintain Metro’s parking? How is Metro’s monthly permit program working: how much revenue does it bring in, and how does the program respond to parking demand? Similarly, how about Metro’s Park-by-phone program: revenue, response to demand? What other parking does Metro own, in addition to the rail and BRT lots this article focuses on? Perhaps, as Metro sets its target for fare recovery for operations cost, it can also set a target for parking cost recovery, with phased-in deadlines for meeting targets.

There’s no better time to solve Metro’s parking problem than right now, while the agency faces a stated deficit and is asking riders to pay more. Have drivers pay their fair share, too.

(View my revised spreadsheet calculations here.)

  • Darren

    Very well said. There’s also an equity question here that Metro’s “doesn’t go far enough” argument does not address: should Metro pay a greater subsidy per rider to riders that have the means to drive a car to the station in the first place?

  • J

    The other question to ask is, “what is the land worth, and how much would Metro benefit by selling the land to developers who build high-quality TODs, centered around the stations”. Surely more people can live in a 6 story building than can park in a surface lot there. Plus they don’t create any traffic getting to the station, require zero subsidy, and boost the ridership of the system, increasing Metro revenues. Seems like a win-win-win to me.

  • Councilman Bonin was asked about this at the Angelenos Against Gridlock event last Friday and expressed qualms about charging for parking perhaps undermining the goal of encouraging the use of mass transit. But earlier when asked about having more service during rush hour on the Red Line he spoke about finances and the current possible fare increase’s impact on the low income transit dependent population. The pressure to find revenue to limit the increase is clearly felt by many of the Metro Board members as reflected in the Krekorian motion on advertising being heard at the Finance, Budget and Audit Committee meeting on Wednesday

    http://media.metro.net/board/Items/2014/04_april/20140416f&bitem17.pdf

    We’ll see if the aforementioned pressure trumps the aforementioned qualms…

  • traal

    Yes, the opportunity cost of using the land as parking instead of TOD is very high.

  • traal

    Charging for parking will encourage driving but also encourage carpooling to the station (good for transit), and biking. Speaking of which, maybe they should convert some of the existing parking spaces to bicycle parking which is a much more efficient use of land.

  • DMalcolmCarson

    For those lots that fill up on a daily basis, there should be no effect on transit ridership. You’re just displacing people who get there super-early with people who are willing to pay in that case. The most important figure in all of this is the 90% of Metro ridership that access the system in some way other than autos. If they eliminated all parking, the effect on ridership would be relatively insignificant.

  • Joe Linton

    @traal – You wrote “Charging for parking will encourage driving” – not necessarily. Yes, there’s a scenario where parking prices are very expensive at a Metro station, so it’s cheaper (per trip) for a person to drive all the way to their destination. A reasonable parking charge at the Metro station, say $3, could still be cheaper than parking at the other end of their trip, especially for trips to/from Downtown L.A.

    If you want to “encourage driving” even more, then give away parking for free. And raise transit fares. And spend hundreds of millions of transit dollars building parking. (Every “free” parking space in a parking structure costs Metro $27,000 – more than the price of a car that parks there.)

    Let’s take a hypothetical person that lives within a mile of a station. This person has choices: bus, car, bike, even foot. If Metro increases the bus fare repeatedly, but keeps parking free, then Metro is encouraging this person to drive, even over using transit.

  • Joe Linton

    Yes – I touched on that inequity in the first editorial. Metro’s raising fares on people without cars, so that they can keep providing free parking for people with cars. Unfair. Not equitable.

  • stvr

    Is this the same Mike Bonin that “rode the bus” to his first day to work? The guy went to Harvard — you would think he’d have HALF A CLUE.

  • Herbie Huff

    Yes! And they could get considerable bumps in ridership by investing in increased service and/or decreased fares instead. It’s well-documented that both of these deliver ridership.

  • calwatch

    MTA did do a parking study a couple if years ago. http://libraryarchives.metro.net/DPGTL/parking/2012-parking-utilization-site-assessement-metro-rail-orange-silver.pdf Generally, it found what you found with the caveat that Silver and Green Line parking lots are often underused. One caveat is that Green and Silver Line lots are part of the freeway park and ride system and not the transit park and ride system, signs notwithstanding. Therefore they are Caltrans facilities and the State must grant permission to charge for parking. In the case of the 105, there is also a consent decree to contend with. It seems easy to charge on the Gold, Blue, and Red lines though.

  • neroden

    Let us consider one of the most famous “park and rides” in the US: Alewife in Boston.

    Parking Rate: $7.00/day. $8.00/overnight

    Parking Spaces: 2,733

    Average Weekday Availability: <5%

    Yeah, I think you can charge for parking at most lots and people will continue to take Metro. Driving is expensive and gets you caught in traffic.

  • Joe B

    Councilman Bonin needs to read Donald Shoup. If we charge the right price for parking, then all the spaces will still be full, just like they are now. So the same number of people will be doing park&ride.

    But some people who live close to the station and used to park&ride (because it was free) will instead walk&ride, freeing up a parking space. And then some people who used to drive the whole way (because there wasn’t any parking available at any price) will now park&ride. The result is a net increase in transit use, and a net decrease in miles driven. Plus money for Metro.

    It’s a huge win all around, which is why Metro won’t do it.

  • Alex Brideau III

    Also, those additional “walk&riders” will add to the pedestrian presence on streets nearby Metro stations, which helps with neighborhood safety and further builds the market for more transit-oriented development.

  • Alex Brideau III

    I think that when Metro opens a station-adjacent parking lot, their intent is to one day make it a TOD. Question is, how aggressively does Metro staff push for TOD development? And, of course, while the land is being used for parking, why not charge a couple bucks for the convenience of parking at the Metro station?

  • Oscar

    Joe, your opinion about “If you want to “encourage driving” even more then give away parking for free.” has some fundamental flaws of logic starting with your use of a hypothetical person that lives within a mile of a station. Using a person that lives within that distance is like seeing the trees but missing the forest. How many thousands, even tens of thousands of people are not that close to a station? Seems that you are suggesting that people who are closest to the stations now using the vast majority of the parking. What are you suggesting or have ever even suggested that would encourage them to drive FEWER miles (whether they live close or far from a station) so that use transit for most of their trip, or is it that you see driving, regardless of the time or length of their trip a person makes in their vehicle, as fundamentally flawed.

    Speaking as someone who is miles from a station and where Metro service would require some transfers and a nice percentage of the day to even get to the station, I can say that If Metro were to start charging many dollars a day to park, I would be more inclined to drive and this is coming from someone who has encouraged my friends to try Metro so I think your opinions on this are flawed. I have more points I could offer but I will stop here, your diatribes on this issue seem to make clear that you treat this issue as a zero sum game. The opinions that you put forward certainly show your bias.

  • Joe Linton

    Well said

  • traal

    About 22 times as many people live within a 20 minute bike ride of a station (at 14 mph) than within a 20 minute walk (at 3 mph) of a station. So that eliminates the need for parking for a lot more people.

  • Joshua Nickel

    If you have been following metro board meetings, Caltrans is in the process of handing over control of the lots to Metro.

    http://media.metro.net/board/Items/2013/10_october/20131016p&pitem12.pdf

  • Alex Brideau III

    I think a very reasonable first step would be for Metro to roll out a low fee (say $1-$3) at their most frequently filled lots. Lots that remain mostly empty (if there are any) can remain free for now. Over time Metro could move to demand-based pricing ranging from free to $__ depending on the at each lot.

    Some of the funds raised could be deposited into Metro’s operating fund and the rest could be used to fund station upgrades and pedestrian/cycling improvements to their surrounding neighborhoods.

  • calwatch

    If you followed the issue more closely, you would know that has gotten into issues because the first thing is to separate the power supply for the parking lots from the power supply for the freeway. http://t.co/o8TCKxj87Z

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