Metro is proposing to increase, or restructure, its $1.50 base transit fare to $1.75 later this year, with further increases planned in 2017 and 2020. Metro anticipates that this will increase its fare recovery – the percentage of operations costs that are paid for by fare revenues – from 25 percent to 33 percent. Metro foresees that this fare increase will “deflect” riders; a small percentage of people who currently take Metro will opt not to ride.
Officially, Streetsblog Los Angeles neither supports nor opposes Metro’s proposed fare increase. We hold that robust transit service is needed, and that fares need to be affordable, and that those two important ends can be in conflict. When inflation drives operating costs up, at some point, it can make sense for agencies to increase what they charge for what they provide. Reasonable fare increases are generally preferable to significant service cuts.
I am not going to wade into all the issues in the fare increase, but want to explore another revenue source that Metro doesn’t seem to be paying attention to: parking.
Metro has large amounts of parking that it gives away for free. For more than 90% of the spaces it owns, Metro’s parking “fare recovery” is zero percent. Parking revenue isn’t likely to cover the entire operating deficit Metro is asserting, but it can amount to millions of dollars, enough to delay or soften fare increases.
Charging for parking will also deflect a small number of the riders who drive (driver-riders are a small percentage of Metro’s overall ridership – fewer than 10 percent), but, if revenue is used to offset fare increases, parking charges should lessen overall deflection. In some cases, charging for parking and keeping transit fares reasonable could deflect some drivers out of their cars and on to buses, carpools, bikes, and walking.
I recently attended a meeting where Metro staff presented their fare increase proposal. When I asked if Metro was also looking at parking revenue, Metro’s presenter responded that Metro didn’t have much parking, and that it fills up quickly anyway – as if that meant there wasn’t anything that could be done. On the contrary, this high demand shows that Metro’s parking is a revenue opportunity. The Transit Coalition’s Bart Reed confirms that “[Metro Red Line] parking for free is gone by 7 a.m. in the valley.” Streetsblog’s Damien Newton states that, at “Culver City [Expo Station] after morning rush hour, I generally see people cruising for parking. There’s no space.”
What’s wrong with free parking? Isn’t that good?