Yesterday, the L.A. Times ran Lack of Parking Drives Many Away from Mass Transit, an article by Laura Nelson.
The Times starts with the example of a San Fernando Valley Metro Red Line commuter nearly missing grabbing a parking space. This leads to assertions of “parking shortages” on “L.A.’s light-rail system [sic – Red Line is heavy rail].” The article goes on to quote various Metro representatives, then parking expert UCLA professor Don Shoup. Ultimately, Nelson characterizes Metro parking as a “key policy question.”
Like a sad game of telephone, ABC7 (KABC-TV) picked up the Times’ assertions and stretched them to near absurdity.
ABC7’s story, Parking Issues to Blame for Low Transit Ridership in Los Angeles, has the gall to interview a man-on-the-street from Anaheim, a suburb not even in L.A. County, who says, “if you can’t park, then why would you take the train?”
It looks like he is riding the train in Pasadena but, honestly, couldn’t ABC7 find someone who lives in L.A. County?
Sure, transportation issues cross political boundaries, but should Metro, a governmental agency with jurisdiction over L.A. County, prioritize limited funds to serve people who don’t live here?
First two general points, then responses to Times article specifics:
1. Lots of People Ride Metro, Few Use Metro Parking
Let me first note that lots and lots of people ride Metro buses and trains. About 1.5 millon every weekday. There’s no “low ridership” issue here. Especially during rush hour, buses and trains are standing room only.
The vast majority of these Metro riders do not park. According to Metro’s on-board surveys, more than 80 percent of transit riders arrive by walking. Fewer than 4 percent drive and park. Even when excluding buses, just looking at the Metro rail system, only about 15 percent of riders drive and park. That is roughly 1 in 7.
The system works. Mostly with most riders paying no attention to parking.
2. It Costs Metro Hundreds of Millions of Dollars to Build and Maintain “Free” Parking
Free parking is not free for Metro to build and maintain. Metro has already spent more than $200 million to build station parking. As more parking comes on line, Metro pays more and more to operate and maintain it.
Multi-million dollar investments in parking come with trade-offs. As an agency with a limited taxpayer-funded budget, Metro can choose to fund more buses, more rail, more parking, more freeways, more walkways, bike share, etc. The difficult political job of the agency is to strike a balance between these competing public goods.
Responding to Various Erroneous or Misleading Points
The Times, ABC7, and even Metro routinely just say “parking” when they’re really referring to just “free parking.” For example, the Times (apparently repeating a Metro assertion) states:
In North Hollywood, where the Red Line subway ends, the MTA estimates that it loses as many as 1,500 riders a day because the parking lot fills up by 7:30 a.m.
Below is a photo of the North Hollywood Red Line Station parking lot at 7:30 a.m. this morning.
Metro’s Red Line North Hollywood Station parking lot, which “fills up by 7:30 a.m.” wasn’t full today at 7:30 a.m. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
The North Hollywood station parking lot has 909 parking spaces. 451 are free. 425 require a paid monthly permit (currently $59, but sold out.) The free parking section is full, by about 6:30 a.m. The paid section never quite fills up. At 8 a.m. today there were still at least 200 empty spaces. Nonetheless that ‘parking lot full by 7:30 a.m.’ myth gets repeated frequently: L.A. Magazine, Zev’s Blog, Metro board motions [PDF page 6], but the lot is not full. (Note: Laura Nelson responded via Twitter that “full” more-or-less meant “unavailable.”)
How about the rest of that Times quote of Metro estimating it’s losing 1,500 riders a day? I think this figure from this Metro staff report [PDF] which reads:
Staff conducted a review of parking demand using Metro’s Regional Transportation Modeling Program for the North Hollywood and Universal City stations. The unconstrained parking demand for both stations far exceeds supply. Unconstrained parking demand is defined as the number of spaces required if there are no regulatory or financial restrictions on use of the parking. The 2014 unconstrained parking demand at North Hollywood is 3,075 spaces. Metro provides 951 [sic – actual: 909] spaces, leaving an unconstrained demand of 2,124 parking spaces.
What is this “unconstrained demand” with “no financial restrictions”? It is meaningless nonsense. Ultimately nothing that exists on planet earth can exist in wholly “unconstrained” theoretical economic cartoon-fantasy-space. Metro needs to balance its constrained budget.
Metro dressing this mumbo-jumbo up in a scientific-sounding “Regional Transportation Modeling Program” is irresponsible. Read more…