The Capricious Commuter



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there’s no such thing as free parking

There is very little that is free in this world, and that is especially true of parking. Somebody had to build the structure, somebody had to pay off the loan and somebody has to pay to clean and police the place as long as it’s in use.

A new 1,547-space parking garage opened in Pleasant Hill June 30, next to the existing garage and ostensibly a substitute for surface parking that will be developed into a “transit village.”

Parking is free there, but that may soon be remedied.

I’ve always straddled the fence on the issue of parking at BART stations. On the one hand, hardcore transit advocates don’t want any parking at all at them. One reason is that they’d like everyone to get rid of their cars, stop polluting and stop fueling “oil wars.”

Another reason is that when transit agencies build parking, people who pay for the system, both riders who pay fares and taxpayers to pick up the remaining cost, end up paying for that parking.

I was at a meeting of the AC Transit Board of Directors recently where the board’s president, Chris Peeples, said a park-and-ride lot that the agency had built was going to cost nearly $20 a day per space. He wasn’t happy about that, and wanted to know why the agency staff couldn’t even charge drivers $3 a day to use it.

On the other side of the hill, so to speak, are those who believe that the only way you can get many drivers out of their cars is to provide convenient parking at mass transit stations.

I sort of agree with that, but I’ve discovered that there’s a much more effective way to get people out of their cars.

All you have to do is charge people $5 a gallon for gasoline.

The bottom line in this world turned upside down is that people want to ride BART. People need to ride BART. Soon people will be pushing and shoving to get onto BART.

The old paradigm of begging people to change their ways is no more. Now all we need to do is provide alternatives beyond what’s available, and for that you need money.
And raising money isn’t the only reason.

Consider the commuting patterns of the average American family. Take Stuart Cohen, executive director of the Transportation and Land Use Coalition. He tells me his wife could never find parking at the North Berkeley BART station between 8:30 and 9 a.m.
Then they started charging for parking. It’s only a dollar, but now she can find parking.

“At many parking lots, they were filling up very early in the morning and forcing anybody who wasn’t able to get there often to keep on driving and drive all the way to work,” Cohen told me, explaining why his coalition lobbied BART to begin slapping a charge on their lots.
I can relate to that, because I have tried to park at Pleasant Hill, burned a bunch of gas trolling the lots and garage and ended up driving to Oakland.

One thing that Cohen noticed in his own neighborhood, the early risers drove to BART and the later commuters were forced to come up with other ways to get to work and perhaps even to the BART station. Since pay parking was instituted, some of those early risers have taken alternate ways of getting to BART, such as biking or taking a local bus.

The reality check I like to bring up is that there are lots of people who have no other way of getting to BART but driving. Most of them would be happy to pay a reasonable fee to do that.

Gail Murray, president of the BART board and the Pleasant Hill area’s rep, noted that the price of parking at transit stations has a much smaller affect on commuting choices than the price of parking in San Francisco, at Bishop Ranch and other employment centers.

Lucky for us, $5 a gallon gas will soon make those choices much easier.

Posted by on July 3, 2008.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Categories: AC Transit, BART, driving, Environment, fuel, Funding, parking, rail, transit equity, Transit vs. driving

18 Responses

  1. Well, I took Caltrain for almost 3 years between my home in San Francisco and Los Gatos. To do it all on transit required:

    35 minutes + to get from home to Caltrain 4th & King on MUNI (1 transfer until KT line opened)
    58 minutes to get from 4th and King to San Jose Diridon
    60 minutes + to get from downtown San Jose to downtown Los Gatos (1 transfers. reduced to 45-50 minutes after light rail opened to Winchester).

    Total transit time: 153 minutes, plus time to make 4 connections. Each way.

    Or, I could park a car at Mountain View. That saved 14 minutes on Caltrain and it only took 20 minutes to drive the last 15 miles. Total commute time: 100 minutes, plus time to make connections, savings of 50 minutes each way.

    It was worth the parking fee. I still saved 70 miles of driving a day.

    by Mike on Jul 3, 2008 at 5:47 pm

  2. And of course, having a car in Mountain View meant I didn’t have to wait 30 minutes for the next bus if the train was a few minutes late. It was much more stressful being late into the office than late getting home.

    by Mike on Jul 3, 2008 at 5:49 pm

  3. Mike, you’re the textbook example of someone who really needs to drive to transit. What if we had congestion pricing for transit stations, so that when demand is high, the price goes up? That way, the neediest (or richest, of course) commuters will use the lots.

    As for leaving the car in Mountain View, I envy you. I wouldn’t dare leave a car at the Coliseum station. You’re liable to find someone sleeping it in the next morning. I’ve gotten used to the 7-minute bike ride to and from the station, however, and my “free” parking at work is under 24-hour surveillance.

    by Capricious Commuter on Jul 3, 2008 at 5:56 pm

  4. I think the problem with BART is its orientation both as commuter rail and urban subway

    Their should be a better nexus between removing parking and integrating fares

    One idea is you take away most the cheap parking in the inner Alameda and West Contra Costa first, the rest you charge 5$ for but you use this money to allow AC transit pass holders to ride BART within the county unlimited. Other market based parking would pop up around the stations and this would drive off peak ridership on BART which is a big problem.

    BART and AC need to be forced into this and BART needs to create a narrative to sell this idea of being an urban subway and commuter rail

    On the other hand we really should stop wasting public money on transit villages around places like Dublin.

    by zig on Jul 3, 2008 at 6:34 pm

  5. Sorry not “their” I mean “there”. Need to stay correct

    To expand on my post BART needs to move towards a 2050 plan of fulfilling its destiny of being more of an urban subway. A better balance like the DC Metro has

    Unfortunately we still have too deal with crap like EBART, BART to Livermore and Warm Springs so maybe there isn’t hope for the system unless the State and Feds drop the regulation hammer

    by zig on Jul 3, 2008 at 6:38 pm

  6. CC – not sure if you are aware of one of the latest trends in transit.

    Old School – take Caltrain to the station closest to your work, then company shuttle to work.

    New School – Company shuttle goes all the way from your home to work. See: Google, Paypal, Ebay, Genentech, etc… shuttles daily from SF to the front door.

    Now that’s a perk.

    by murphstahoe on Jul 3, 2008 at 9:57 pm

  7. I consider myself a pretty hard-core transit advocate and am not against all parking. I think parkers should pay their own way and that should not be subsidized, but I’m in favor of building enough parking to saturate the market demand at some stations. (That is, I’d specialize stations: some would have megaparking and some would have transit villages, depending on what was around. South Hayward and Castro Valley, say, could be parking stations while Hayward would be a pedestrian area.)

    by Aaron Priven on Jul 3, 2008 at 10:31 pm

  8. AP, the idea for either “megaparking” or urbanized, high density BART stations seems workable. Those new condos at Dublin/Pleasanton are a joke, plus they look ugly.

    I’m excited in the planning going into the MacArthur Village project. What’s really interesting is that some nearby residents are raising a stink that parking will be reduced. There will be fewer spaces in the garage compared to what the “parking pit” can hold now.

    by rogue cyclist on Jul 3, 2008 at 11:01 pm

  9. The MacArthur transit village will indeed be welcome, though it might have been nice to see higher density than what’s in the latest incarnation. Still better than surface parking, though.

    by Eric on Jul 4, 2008 at 2:16 am

  10. BART stations at one time had many AC routes providing feeder service. These have withered partially because BART users chose to drive to the stations. It would be useful to look at rider stats for the 6 months bracketing parking fees.
    If as others have suggested BART were forced to accept AC passes as Muni does and AC were able to restore feeder routes, ridership would balloon and fewer auto trips would be defensible.

    by david vartanoff on Jul 4, 2008 at 11:21 am

  11. Ah Bay Area,

    Enjoy your well used and safe transit parking and access controlled system. Here in Sacramento, parking ones car at the Light rail station is only done if you what to donate to the local parts houses. The homeless don’t need to sleep in parked cars when they can sleep in the Air Conditioned trains for free.

    by John Miller on Jul 4, 2008 at 11:40 am

  12. Charging $1 for parking is a no-brainer. It needs to be done just to stop folks from using the lot to store their excess vehicles.

    Better access for drive/BART connections would help transit a lot. The Fremont BART station is hemmed-in/cut-off by a hospital and city park. The Warm Springs Extension (even without going on to San Jose) would bring BART closer to I680, I880, and 237.

    by Reedman on Jul 7, 2008 at 1:28 pm

  13. Murphs., you’re correct in that I’m not up on that trend. To me, the free door-to-door shuttle is in the same category with 100% Commuter Check subsidies, as in, I can’t relate. I may end up losing money on my unsubsidized Commuter Check subscription. (for those of you who don’t get why anybody would sign up for unsubsidized Commuter Check, it’s because it’s tax-free.)

    by Capricious Commuter on Jul 7, 2008 at 1:35 pm

  14. I have very mixed feelings about free (or subsidized) parking at bus stops and train stations.

    On the one hand I can see the issue of subsidies skewing the distribution of expenses to benefit mostly longer distance commuters at the cost of non-drivers and local bus riders.

    But on the other hand I do also understand and sympathize with many of my neighbors who won’t take BART at all unless they can drive and park at the station. They do this because they don’t feel safe waiting for a bus at BART stations and don’t feel safe walking home.

    And indeed one of my neighbors was mugged at the North Berkeley BART station a couple of months ago as she came home in the afternoon. My neighbors is a true trooper, walking the 2 miles to and from the BART station regularly. (She does this because it takes less time from our West Berkeley neighborhood to walk than to take AC transit to the BART station.) But she is also retired. And I fear that she might be permanently harmed by a mugging gone too far. I wish that she would drive to the station despite her environmental consciousness. I don’t want to see her get hurt.

    North Berkeley BART has historically had a fair number of “rat pack” muggings. In the past the City of Berkeley has employed part time police aides to offer assistance to BART riders because of the security concerns. This service stopped when the city budget became tight.

    I can really see why people close to the MacArthur BART station don’t want to see any reduction in parking. Some the areas to the west of the station aren’t very safe places to walk, bicycle or wait for a bus.

    When advocates push people to ride the bus, they often miss one of the reasons why people who are otherwise sympathetic drive instead. And that is that in many neighborhoods it simply is less than safe for people to walk to and from the bus stop at certain times of day. Also many people don’t want to have to transfer between busses at some intersections (for example along San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland) after dark.

    The reality of the level of crime on the street affects our modal choices. Providing parking at least offers some people the opportunity to use transit when otherwise they might not.

    by A former business manager on Jul 9, 2008 at 11:30 am

  15. Biz Mgr,

    Won’t the hundreds of new residents near MacArthur Bart make the surrounding area far safer to walk in than it is right now?

    And if there was no parking at the North Berkeley station, wouldn’t you be walking home with your neighbor, or waiting with her for the bus?

    by A Former Berkeley Resident on Jul 9, 2008 at 12:36 pm

  16. AFBM wrote: “I do also understand and sympathize with many of my neighbors who won’t take BART at all unless they can drive and park at the station.”

    Sure, but that doesn’t mean parking needs to be free. Charging a fair market rate for parking means it will be available at all times of the day to anybody who wants it.

    by MikeOnBike on Jul 9, 2008 at 2:02 pm

  17. I never had a problem with the car in Mountain View. Lots of people parked overnight…there was a mass exodus for the southbound trains arriving at 7:55 and 8:55 am. Unfortunately for the northbound people, their train left at 7:58 so they couldn’t grab our spaces if the lot was already full.

    Ironically, my car was eventually stolen from my home when in a gated parking area.

    by Mike on Jul 9, 2008 at 10:41 pm

  18. I can relate to the theft problem, having lost three chained and U-locked (to each other) family bicycles in a gated apartment parking lot in LA.

    by ex-Capricious Commuter on Jul 10, 2008 at 7:43 am

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