Oakland Tribune Outtakes

Notes from Oakland, Berkeley and in between

Can parking fees really solve cities’ budget crisis?

By awoodall
Wednesday, January 6th, 2010 at 11:11 am in Night Owl.

The word on the street is that cash-strapped Chicago is emulating Oakland by turning to parking meter fee hikes. Windy City residents did not react well to the news. We feel for you, Chicago.
I have always wondered why some cities, such as New York, do not seem to rely so heavily on meters, parking zones and have a far (FAR FAR FAR) more rational street-cleaning procedure. And the city is not going bankrupt. Where do they get the money???
Elsewhere, like Chicago and Oakland,officials are trying to suck out every dime they can from meters and 2-hour parking zones covering as many square inches as possible. I won’t even talk about street cleaning, expect to say that Oakland gets kudos for finally moving back the hours downtown. Park Street merchants, I noticed, took a different approach during the holidays by banding together to offer shoppers on the busy street several hours of free parking. (Meanwhile, the Grand Lake area merchants were still predicting doomsday because the city jacked up the parking rates.)
The same goes with public transportation. Why can most of the world provide reliable, cheap and fast subways, whereas the Bay Area relies on trains that run infrequently, shut down early and  are more expensive for a family of four than driving (RT from Oakland to Embarcadero, just a couple of miles, is $6.20 per person = $25. Driving costs at most $15 — even less if parking is not involved.) New York’s subway gets you from one end of Manhattan to Coney Island and back for about $5. That is a long distance. Really, Portland, New York, Boston, London, Paris, Sarajevo and Zagreb have better systems than the Bay Area.
Parking rates would not drive me away from Oakland or any other city. But that, coupled with a high cost of living, limited amenities and an expensive, weak, unresponsive public transportation system like BART makes me feel like the Bay Area just isn’t worth it anymore no matter how good the weather is.

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7 Responses to “Can parking fees really solve cities’ budget crisis?”

  1. Dave C. Says:

    Not sure why you see NYC as a parker’s paradise. Part of the reason that so many people–even from suburban parts of NJ and Long Island and Westchester–leave their cars behind when they commute into the city is that there is no cheap and easy place for them to park in midtown or downtown. We’re talking about a city where most people don’t own cars, and even many of those who do own cars leave them where they are for days and days unless they are heading out of the city, because they don’t want to give up their precious parking spot and be forced to hunt for a new one. Then when they do have to move their cars because of alternate side parking rules, people in some neighborhoods will sit double-parked in their cars on the other side of the street reading a book or talking on their phones, waiting for the exact time when they can pull their cars across the street and park again. How is that a rational system which shows the virtues of free and/or cheap parking? People who do end up driving their cars to busy business or shopping districts like midtown or soho often end up paying upwards of $20 to park in a garage for just a few hours, because they can’t find a spot on the street.

    What NYC has done right is, as you point out, built a comprehensive public transportation system so that people don’t feel the need to drive everywhere. I had a car in upper Manhattan for a few months, and it was nice for getting out of the city, and sometimes for driving to other boroughs depending on the time of day, but for the most part I left it where it was unless I was going on a weekend trip, because the traffic and parking difficulties in most of Manhattan made public transportation, or my bicycle, an easier and cheaper option for most trips.

    I agree that parking shouldn’t be used primarily as a revenue tool, but as a way to increase the supply of available parking spaces, as well as a way to encourage alternative means of transportation, higher parking rates often make a lot of sense. FYI, NYC is also moving forward with higher meter rates in certain neighborhoods (specifically, Park Slope and the West Village) in order to increase the availability of parking, and to reduce the amount of circling that drivers do while they hunt for scarce spaces in those areas.

    As for why NY doesn’t need to rely on parking meters for revenue, I’m sure that being the nation’s business and financial and tourism center, as well as having an oversized share of high-income individuals living there, has lot to do with it (NYC residents also pay a special income tax to the city, whereas in most other places we only pay income tax to the state and federal governments).

  2. dto510 Says:

    Actually, what’s happened in Chicago is the worst of both worlds – the city sold the rights to the parking meters for about a billion dollars, and then the company raised rates and extended hours and is now making about a billion dollars a year. The lesson: the city needs to have the guts to raise rates themselves, and keep the money. In my experience, most East Coast cities operate parking meters much later than most California cities.

    I don’t think it’s so much that the City is dependent on parking revenue as that’s the low-hanging fruit for raising revenue, and at this point, every dollar counts.

    As for BART – well, yeah, it’s ridiculously expensive. There was a survey recently of the most expensive subways, to riders, per-mile. BART wasn’t on the list but their rates seemed not much lower than London’s, which are the highest. BART also provides a TON of free parking – perhaps if they charged a market rate at all of their stations, and not just in Oakland, they could lower fares for riders.

  3. awoodall Says:

    That’s a really interesting. Other subways don’t have any parking and are cheaper. Does the survey indicate, or is there a report anywhere that shows, the criteria for subway systems setting their fees? I don’t want to read just BART’s rationale for its fees. How about a comparison between BART fees and their top managers’ paychecks?

  4. eric Says:

    It would make sense, as Dto510 says, to raise parking fees rather than raise fares. And like DaveC, I lived in NYC for many years and found parking (when I had a car) to be a huge pain–much, much, much worse than in Oakland. By all means, raise parking fares–and install tolls on the freeways, too!

  5. Dave C. Says:

    It seems like BART is best compared with other cities’ commuter lines instead of their subway systems. Commuter rail lines (I’m thinking of the LIRR, Metro North, and NJ Transit systems serving NYC, the purple lines of the MBTA in Boston, etc.) tend to be pricier, have only a few stops in the cities they serve, and usually do have large, free (or supercheap) parking lots at the stations which aren’t in the hearts of the cities. BART’s fares are probably not so out of whack if you compare them with those lines instead of with real urban subway systems. I’m not normally one to defend BART, but BART makes little effort to hide the fact that it sees itself primarily as a commuter light rail system, not an urban mass transit system.

    I tend to see BART as a lost cause when it comes to offering urban residents good public transportation options. Rather than try to get BART to change, it seems like it might be better to focus on improving the alternatives (AC Transit, Muni, etc.) and getting the MTC to stop favoring BART so much.

  6. awoodall Says:

    Hmmm. You might be right. I am definitely no transportation expert but trying to deal with BART is like ramming your head up against a steel-enforce brick wall. So, how does MTC favor BART?

  7. Dave C. Says:

    I’m no tranportation expert either (dto510 would know more), but my impression from casually following these issues is that the MTC directs tons of funding into whatever BART’s pet projects are, like wasting money on the ridiculous Oakland Airport Connector or expanding service to puny and distant suburbs, while AC Transit has to fight for its funding and is repeatedly having to cut service and raise fares. Since I bike almost everywhere, I am blessedly free from personally having to worry about bus service cuts or fare hikes (or parking meter rates, for that matter), which is why I only casually follow these things.

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