The Dirty Truth Behind Park & Rides

Park and ride facilities are darling infrastructure of the transit planning profession. By providing “free” parking to lure choice riders out of cars and onto buses and trains, ridership can get a big boost. No wonder transit operators in our metro provide 258% more “free” parking spaces than fifteen years ago, when the first Regional Park & Ride survey was conducted by the Met Council.

According to the recent report and a summary in today’s Star Tribune, 2,216 parking spaces were added in 2013. The biggest gain this year, 580 net-new structured parking spaces at the 1,000 space Maplewood Mall transit station, cost $13.9 million dollars – nearly $24,000 for every added parking space.

Park & ride investment represents walk & ride disinvestment

SaintPaul_2012_MetroTransit_bus-stop

More amenities than most bus stops…
Photo: Wikimedia/CC

In Minneapolis, we’re lucky to have anything more than a sign at our transit stops. We have plenty of room for improvement for our local service. But we instead choose to binge on ridership growth on the fringe, no matter how much money it costs us to “buy” those riders. Yet there are opportunity costs: For less than the cost of two Maplewood park & rides serving up to (2×580=) 1160 parked cars, we’re building a full Arterial BRT line on Snelling Avenue scheduled to open next year. Those improvements will serve an estimated ridership of 8,700. And, unlike additional parking spaces, these amenities serve all riders (not just the 3,000 new ones). This is 7.5 times more productive than the same investment in parking.

Parking Lot Express

“Parking Lot Express”
Photo: Wikimedia/CC

The Met Council’s park & ride fetish hurts towns, too. The Northstar commuter rail line was built with 2,772 park & ride spaces. Yet only a third of those spaces were used in 2012, for a commuter service which has a farebox recovery ratio of roughly half our bread-and-butter urban transit services (the ones we can’t find the money to improve). But we lost a huge opportunity on our $320 million Northstar investment in 2009 – instead of connecting existing, walkable, rail-adjacent downtown cores of Elk River and Big Lake, we built stations with hundreds of parking spaces in corn fields.

There’s no such thing as free parking

maplewood

“That will be $9.50, please”
(MetroTransit promotional photo)

The reality is that real estate devoted to the storage of motor vehicles costs money – whether it’s 20 spaces leased from a church or $20 million in new parking structures. Clearly, subsidized parking plays a significant role in the makeup of our regional transit system – but who’s paying? Not just the folks leaving their cars in the ramp to get on the downtown bus.

If the new Maplewood Mall ramp capital is amortized over a 20 year period, we’re spending roughly $1200 per space per year to have the capacity for 580 new park & riders. At 240 workdays a year, a $5 parking fee would be necessary just to pay off the investment. $5 per person in addition to the transit fare to operate the bus. A $5 parking fee which wouldn’t even pay for maintenance, snow removal, and lighting – so let’s bump that up to $7. And that’s assuming those ramps are full every work day. But they’re not. In 2012, MinnPost noted that roughly 2/3 of spaces were occupied. Tack on another $2.50 for the principle payment to cover the space elsewhere in the park & ride system that cost money but is not storing a car.

Suburban park & riders are clearly not paying $9.50 to park before paying an additional fare to get on the bus. Someone else is paying to subsidize their car storage habits. And you’re it.

How unfairness plays out

Imagine yourself as one of these two transit riders:

  • You board Route 94 in Downtown Minneapolis for a 10 mile, 20 minute ride to Downtown St. Paul for an end of the day meeting. You pay a $3 express rush hour fare, the same fare as someone who just boarded Route 467 to Lakeville – a 22 mile, 45 minute ride to the $8.7 million parking ramp where their car is parked (for “free”). You’re indirectly subsidizing their car storage habits.
  • You walk or bike from your transit-adjacent apartment to the Apple Valley Transit Station, a $21 million replacement to the original parking-constrained station across the street, where you pay $3 to board an express 480 to Downtown St. Paul. You sit next to someone who drove their car to the station and parked for free, but paid the same fare as you. You’re indirectly subsidizing their car storage habits.

Our current problem with parking is that it is nearly always bundled into other transactions. You’re nearly always paying for it hidden in the prices of goods, services, taxes, or transit fares – whether you use it or not. This causes two severe problems that are eroding our land use and mobility decisions. First, people are paying for something irrespective of their use, so people who don’t require car storage are paying for people who do.

It also interrupts a valuable feedback loop that exists to help people make decisions that are efficient for the individual and society as a whole: If that feedback loop existed, people would make better choices. If we did not find it to be a public responsibility to pay $10/day so transit can compete with the public responsibility to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into suburban freeway infrastructure, people may decide that it’s not wise to live 30 miles away from their job.

Changes needed

It’s not wise for our transit strategy to attract ridership at all costs by subsidizing car storage. Nor is it fair to transit riders who, by their own choice, pay the same fare but do not consume the same expensive parking spaces. There’s a solution.

Technology!

Technology!

Modern technology allows us to decouple parking costs from other costs, which is the first step. The near-ubiquity of GoTo cards (especially on commuter routes) allows for us to have a fast way to account for parking transactions, possibly with an RFID-equipped entry gate or a validation match to a parking space. For those without GoTo cards, new technology similar to parking meter kiosks can be used to conduct parking transactions. This change allows people to have proper incentives to make parking decisions based on the cost (or at least the partial cost) of their choice.

The second step is to eliminate the express fare for those who do not consume parking spaces. The fare would then fairly represent time-access to the regional transit network, whether you’re using the 94 Express or the Green Line local.

To start, the parking charge can be $0.75, the difference between the current local and express fares. Over time, the parking charge can increase until it fully covers the cost of parking maintenance, payoff of incurred debt to build parking, and a demand-responsive increase of park & ride spaces at the market rate for parking.

Eventually, parking could become a profit center for bus operations, assuming the cost for parking and the transit fare are marginally more valuable to potential riders than an excruciating commute on a packed freeway. Instead of today’s cost center, where parking soaks money that could otherwise be used on productive transit, it could actually make transit better – for all of us.

Start asking questions

MinnPost notes, “The [Met] Council projects that the region will need over 40,000 spaces by 2030 to keep pace with demand.” That demand exists because the cost of parking is free. Planners see this as the cost of growing ridership. But it’s really a cost to quality transit service for people who don’t need park & rides. Are we going to meet demand for something which, when free, appears limitless? Or will we ask suburban riders to pay their fair share – the costs borne from their decisions?

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36 Responses to The Dirty Truth Behind Park & Rides

  1. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary March 18, 2014 at 6:02 pm #

    I think you’re absolutely right, but the trouble arises from asking them to pay their fair share with one mode of transportation — transit — but not with the yet-more-expensive freeway commuting by individual car. For me, my greatest fear with what you propose is that — rather than suburbanites choosing to live somewhere else — suburbanites will instead choose to drive to their destination.

    A conversation like this needs to include tolling and congestion pricing on roadways, too.

    • Jeff Z March 18, 2014 at 7:20 pm #

      I’m fairly sure of a large segment of park and ride users chose to drive instead. I’m pretty sure you would see. Private ramps start to increase their prices if demand increased enough. Also it would be pretty safe to say that a number of those drivers would utilize MnPass lanes although who knows to where and what that money gets funneled off to.

    • Matt Steele March 18, 2014 at 7:57 pm #

      Definitely. Right now, we’re asking for transit to compete on the car’s terms. We build fast roads and free parking, no matter the cost, nearly everywhere people want to go and then asking transit to compete with that.

      Then of course transit fails. But roads and parking fail too, when public costs are counted. The reality is that freeways and parking infrastructure *also* need to compete on the basis of value. If that was the case, most of our metropolitan car subsidies would disappear.

    • Nathanael March 19, 2014 at 10:20 pm #

      FWIW, Boston’s most famous park-and-ride, Alewife, charges $7/day or $8/night. It is generally 95% full.

      Do people “just drive downtown” in Boston? Ha! That would cost them *more* if they could find a space.

      And now you understand the proper place of park-and-rides. Until downtown parkng is expensive and congested, park-and-rides have no place.

  2. Brendon Slotterback
    Brendon Slotterback March 18, 2014 at 8:15 pm #

    Is there (there must be) a difference in funding between Metro Transit operating funds and those funds used to construct park and rides? Are P&Rs included in state bonding? Special CTIB or Met Council TAB funds? We are making trade-offs, but I imagine this is more a question of funding parochialism rather than total zero-sum. Still an interesting thought exercise.

    To be 100% fair, there is a non-zero congestion mitigation value that distant park and riders are “paying” to other road users in the urban core, although I doubt it is equal to $9.50/day.

    • Matt Steele March 18, 2014 at 8:20 pm #

      But any congestion save is seen as a cost avoid for freeway capacity expansion, so it nets out. We really need to have the uncomfortable discussion that states it’s not a reasonable expectation to commute from an exurban house to Downtown Minneapolis during peak hours for $3 or less, whether on a bus or in a car.

      • Matt Steele March 19, 2014 at 7:31 am #

        Also, indeed there are realities as to how one type of project can get funded from one pot of money, but a better project can’t access the same funds. P&Rs are funded by a mix of sources… heck even the Feds are paying for some through the Local Partnership Agreement and the future FTA match for the Southwest Park & Ride Expansion Plus LRT project.

        At the end of the day, a dollar is fungible… the only reason why that dollar must be spent on park & rides, or freeway lanes, or whatever rather than higher value projects is a *political* reason not an economic one. So, by pointing out the pathetic outcomes our current policies produce, we can build popular demand for change so we can se better outcomes. I do not accept our current political funding realities to be unchangeable.

        • Brendon Slotterback
          Brendon Slotterback March 20, 2014 at 2:18 pm #

          Re: changing current political funding realities, I agree. It is much more difficult to change funding when it is federally dictated/given, but I still agree.

  3. Jaron McNamara March 18, 2014 at 10:57 pm #

    Personally I’ve always been a fan of the free park and ride lots, they certainly were beneficial for days when I didn’t want to walk a mile to the bus stop from my parents house. In addition I have to wonder if the ramps weren’t built in the burbs, would they have been built in the downtown areas instead? And if they were built downtown would they be getting some kind of subsidy or tax break? I’d prefer them out in the burbs myself.

    Hindsight is 20/20, what if when the suburbs were getting developed like crazy, the Met Council had been able to step up and say, okay there’s tons of demand for a three car garage with living quarters attached, in a community of identical structures built in a rat maze, go ahead and build that, but you must also build a 1000 space parking ramp at the intersection of major route X and route Y, and charge each carhold in these developments an annual transportation amenities fee to cover the maintenance for this structure and the street network. In other words, should or could these suburban ramps be paid for by city property taxes? Or are they already in some cases? Granted then you may again run into the situation of angry Apple Valleyians who don’t want their high demand parking spots occupied by Tahoes and Tauruses from Northfield. Still at least it wouldn’t be sucking resources from someone cooling their heels at a stop on Grand Avenue with nothing but a six foot metal T post to shelter them from the wind.

    • Matt Steele March 19, 2014 at 7:15 am #

      Interesting thoughts. I do realize that a huge percentage of folks do like the park and ride lots. I did too… I took the 477 and (then new) 467 while saving up to move to Minneapolis. People like things, whether it’s a cheap bus downtown or a fast freeway commute to their suburban job, especially when they’re not paying for them.

      The idea for building parking is an interesting thought experiment, but it suffers from the same problems we have today. Why should taxes pay for parking? As you note, we then force a private good (rivalrous and excludable) to become a public good… When the $21 million AVTS was built, Lakeville was outside the Transit Taxing District. The city didn’t want its residents to pay for a tax without local transit service, but at the same time its residents were not paying the tax that funded the parking ramp they used a mile out of city limits. The idea that tax dollars should pay for parking — anywhere — needs to end. If property taxes paid for parking, the same problems would emerge — people who didn’t use that good would be forced to subsidize people who do.

      The only proper solution to pay for parking – whether in Downtown Minneapolis, a suburban transit center, a local street, or even in a rural setting – is to unbundle the cost and attempt to price it within the market. Anything less leads to disastrous consequences in terms of our land use and mobility decisions: Sprawl subsidies.

      Park & rides were built under a false choice. The false choice was that if we didn’t offer subsidized parking to grow express service, we’d need to build freeway lanes instead. It’s an offer you can’t refuse, in the worst possible way.

      If Parkway Pizza offered artichoke deluxe pizzas to my door for $0 instead of ~$20, I’d probably get a pizza every night rather than every month or two. That’s the same thing we’ve done, as social engineers of sprawl, to encourage three car garages out in the suburbs. Without proper pricing, people consume way too much. At a price of $0, people consume as many parking spots and as many freeway lane miles as they want to get the lifestyle they want. And don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with big suburban homes if that’s what people want and they pay their own way…. but that’s not what has happened. Some folks live in Andover or Blaine because they work near Andover or Blaine. They might work at the local school or office park. But for those who chose to live there and commute a long distance, that choice was heavily influenced by a lifestyle subsidy.

      Anyways, this gets much deeper into how the Met Council and state “regionalism” legislation have actually subsidized a financially bankrupt development pattern for the past 70 years. And they pushed our core cities to the brink of death – even though they were the economic engines of the tax base even in their worst years. More on that in the future.

      • Jaron McNamara March 19, 2014 at 11:09 pm #

        I see your point and that pizza analogy is a good one. I think the whole transit vs. driving vs. walking vs. bike vs. fly order would be turned on its head if everything was changed to pay as you go. Local bus rides would probably jump to $4 to $20 depending on distance: “Ouch that’s expensive, I’ll drive, hey WTH?? I have to PAY $2 a mile to drive and it doesn’t include gas or insurance?? And what’s this bill for $30 for one night of parking on the street?” 🙂

  4. Matt Brillhart March 19, 2014 at 8:30 am #

    god help us: http://metrocouncil.org/getdoc/01db12da-7834-4229-8e0e-f516d633f196/BusinessItem.aspx

    We’re now building park & ride lots at the absolute edge of the developing suburbs (Woodbury’s eastern border) which will also collect commuters from western Wisconsin. Metro Transit and the Met Council currently have no plans to collect any funds from Wisconsin residents, above the regular $3 bus fare. We’re even creating a new bus route to serve this parking lot in farm field, Route 376. This location will someday serve as the terminus of the Gateway Corridor, if that ever gets built.

    Local transit planners will tell you there’s nothing to see here, because the money for these park & rides is largely coming from federal CMAQ grants. These grants even cover a few years of the new express bus service, as a “demonstration”.

    What happens when that demonstration grant runs out and we now have to pay for the new routes out of our already thin operating budget? What happens when the park & ride needs maintenance & repair? These park & rides are like getting a free St. Bernard puppy from the federal government. They’re seem nice at first but quickly turn into the gift that keeps on taking.

  5. Evan Roberts
    Evan March 19, 2014 at 10:08 am #

    On the whole I agree with this post, but in my pragmatic moments would argue park-and-rides are a second-best solution in a second-best world.

    Congestion charging: Ideally we’d start charging for park-and-rides at the same time as fully priced congestion charging, and the park-and-ride would be competitive, maybe even profitable. Which one first, though? Charging for park-and-rides before congestion charges would lead to people just driving, so congestion charges first!

    Land-use: Given the physical layout of the American suburbs park-and-rides do solve a last 1-2 mile problem that might genuinely be particularly acute in our climate. As we aim to increase density in the suburbs, park-and-rides are a place to start. Not a great place, but a better place than other suburban places. Park and rides could eventually be like small railroad stations, which can be great nodes of density. Better use can be made of the parking by trying to attract development with complementary parking needs (or none at all). It’s crazy that most park-and-rides are devoid of businesses when there’s a captive market. And as suburbs invest in bike lanes and sidewalks, the mile or so around park-and-rides is a place to start so that more people can get to the transit station without needing to drive and park.

    • Steven Prince March 19, 2014 at 10:41 am #

      I disagree. Park and Rides encourage building residential neighborhoods that can only be utilized by people with cars. Better to build the transit nodes without significant parking and spend money on shuttles to pick-up and deliver people to neighborhood stops. That would allow people to leave the cars at home. This only works if the transit noes then have grocery stores, dry cleaners, day-cares, medical clinics and other amenities that allow people to take care of these daily tasks without getting in their cars. If we had that – even in only some neighborhoods – something interesting would happen. Property values would go up in those neighborhoods and people would start clamoring to convert their three car garages (600 square feet average) into rental units.

      • Evan Roberts
        Evan March 19, 2014 at 5:03 pm #

        Steven, sorry, I was a little unclear. Given that we have freeways and poorly laid out suburbs and very dispersed single-family-homes, park-and-rides can be a step towards better land-use and better suburbs.

        Yes, lets stop building more expensive park-and-rides. But what can we do with the ones that exist to make them nodes of density. And if we need more, how we can use existing under-utilized surface parking lots for park-and-rides, instead of the current situation of building park-and-rides that only get used for commuters?

        Why shouldn’t more schools and malls be park-and-ride locations. Drive with the kids to school, kids go to school, parents get on the bus to downtown. What kind of weekend-peak businesses could locate at park-and-rides?

        • Cole Hiniker March 19, 2014 at 11:47 pm #

          The reason the region has focused on building large park-and-rides is because if you can get everyone to concentrate at a few large locations, it actually benefits them because you can provide more frequent but still efficient service. For decades the region was using the “shared location” model of malls, stores, theaters, etc. but it just meant you’d have to run your express buses to a lot of different small locations and actually lead to less efficient (and more costly) operations. There are still plenty of rented park-and-ride arrangements with businesses and churches, however.

  6. Steven Prince March 19, 2014 at 10:32 am #

    The creation of park and rides is not just a subsidy to suburban drivers, it is a public subsidy to downtown property owners (and developers) by focusing more daily trip on the CBD, raising rental values downtown while encouraging further residential sprawl.

    Downtown property values are a function of the density of human interactions that can occur on a given parcel of land – highways and downtown ramps only get you so far- at some point you need to put more people in each vehicle to increase density (and values).

    Minneapolis and regional planners have, for years, focused on increasing downtown density (values) over creating transit systems that allow people to live in places where walking, not cars, are the dominant transportation technology.

    This park and ride mentality is found all over our metro area: If you subtract the number of SE metro commuters who drive to Hiawatha Line stops, park for free, and take the train downtown (cheaper than paying downtown parking rates), how successful is that transit line, really? The real measure should be how many units of housing within walking distance of its stops are occupied by people who do not own automobiles.

    SWLRT provides zero development possibilities in Minneapolis (except at Calhoun Village) for creating walkable communities); millions for a bus/transit stop in the middle of 35W at 46th Street that is completely impractical as a neighborhood node. The list goes on and on.

    Over ten years ago we studied parking and traffic in the Wedge and discovered there were two peaks of on-street parking – one at night when all the residents came home from work (the one we expected), but also one from 9am to 4pm, commuters from SW Minneapolis and suburbs who drove to the Wedge, parked for free, and hopped on the 4, 6 or 17 to downtown – or the express to the U – avoiding parking costs. I doubt that park and ride phenomena has changed.

    If we wanted to encourage walkable urban nodes we need to create a multi-modal system of transit, bikeways and sidewalks that are safe and reliable.

    There has been much discussion on this site about the need for increased housing density to support transit – that is not the issue, many of our neighborhoods have sufficiency density to support transit right now – but daily personal constraints prevent people to committing to an auto-free existence.

    The question is one of constraints – when sidewalks get regularly shoveled so people can walk on them and buses are as reliable as the elevator in your downtown office building – then people will choose not to own cars and we will stop spending so much money on constructing places to store the vehicles that we use less than 10% of the day.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam March 19, 2014 at 11:10 am #

      “Minneapolis and regional planners have, for years, focused on increasing downtown density (values) over creating transit systems that allow people to live in places where walking, not cars, are the dominant transportation technology”

      If only that density had been mixed-use, instead of all commercial, we might have a CBD that fits that description.

    • Nathanael March 19, 2014 at 10:25 pm #

      ” commuters from SW Minneapolis and suburbs who drove to the Wedge, parked for free, and hopped on the 4, 6 or 17 to downtown – or the express to the U – avoiding parking costs. ”

      How shall I put this.

      This is OK, as long as the parking was fairly cheap to build (say, a small gravel lot) and didn’t displace other construction (i.e., when a developer wants to build an office building on the lot, you remove the parking).

      Alternatively, it’s OK if you charge enough for the parking to cover its own costs and the opportunity cost of not building whatever other building you might put there. It may *still* cost less than downtown parking. And that’s when a park-and-ride really works and pays for itself. I doubt downtown parking is expensive enough anywhere in the Twin Cities to make this true, but this situation has happened in Boston, New York, and San Francisco.

  7. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell March 19, 2014 at 12:30 pm #

    Great post.

    I wonder if, instead of that multi level monstrosity in Maplewood, they had instead continued with the existing surface lot and used those funds to build a web of safe bicycle paths out from the lot into the surrounding communities, how many people might that have encouraged to bike & ride, and leave their cars parked at home?

    They’re building a park & ride in Vadnais Heights (35E & County E). Accessible by bicycle? Safe bicycle parking at the lot? I know three families who live within 1 mile of that new lot who would like to ride bicycles to it, but will not because of the lack of bicycle facilities. They’ll be driving instead. One mile each way.

    What if, when a ramp is justified (I do think some are for those traveling from further out), they at least made it mixed use with retail on the first level? The area around that new ramp in Maplewood is about as inviting as a parking ramp. Can it get any worse?

    • Matt Steele
      Matt Steele March 19, 2014 at 12:40 pm #

      While I am critical, at least they’re starting to do this better than before. Having fewer, larger park & rides is more operationally efficient than many small lots. We can consolidate demand onto fewer, higher service express bus routes with fewer stops. And over time we can build Freeway BRT to provide relatively fast and efficient off-peak service to connect strings of park & rides (just don’t cheapen the METRO brand with them, MT! #RedLine)

      As you note, it doesn’t take much in terms of walk/bike infrastructure to come out ahead. At $20-25k/space on average per daily rider, that’s a lot of quality bike infrastructure in the suburbs.

      In the long run, these suburban transit centers need to be more than just parking ramps. These transit centers should be integrated into walkable communities, just like the railroads did 150 years ago.

  8. minneapolisite March 19, 2014 at 7:21 pm #

    The other dirty secret is that park & rides are a one-way street. Suburbanites have to drive to them then take mass transit to the city, while urbanites take mass transit to the suburbs only to find they need a car get around the burbs just like suburbanites do. So, do park & rides provide car rental service for urban residents to have equal access to the suburbs? And why do these park & rides offer real time signs showing available spaces and next bus departures when city residents don’t get real time arrivals/departures at stops/shelters/stations?

    http://www.metrotransit.org/smart-park-rides.aspx

    • Nathanael March 19, 2014 at 10:27 pm #

      That sort of thing is ridiculous. It’s a situation where suburban services are gold-plated and city services are as-cheap-as-possible. You see this in a surprising number of metro areas. I think it will only end when the suburbs stop being “where the rich people live”, which is happening quite fast actually.

    • Matt Steele March 19, 2014 at 10:48 pm #

      Actually that present a great business opportunity. Sort of like the folks who started peer-to-peer car rentals at SFO airport’s garage. Could solve the last mile problem as we phase out of car exclusivity.

    • Cole Hiniker March 19, 2014 at 11:52 pm #

      Isn’t this just screaming for car-sharing and bike-sharing at suburban park-and-rides though? Seems like a relatively easy solution to provide more reverse commute options for core residents. Unfortunately, you’d need someone to take the initiative to convince a car-sharing company that this would work. I think Car2Go would be perfect because most people would only be driving a mile or so at the end of the trip and Car2Go would guarantee that their cars would get used almost daily by commuters.

      Thoughts?

      • Matt Steele
        Matt Steele March 20, 2014 at 10:20 am #

        I’m not sure car-sharing is a good option for the last mile of reverse commutes. I actually started a car-sharing organization back in 2007, and got plugged in quite a bit with the industry and its workings at that time. I’m sure it’s changed in some ways. But one of the fundamental rules of car sharing (at least the hub model like Zipcar and Hourcar use) is that it fails when its primary use is daily commuting routines. This is because it actually would create 8+ hour demand for cars (reverse commuters from transit center to work parking lot and back), resulting in a net increase in car demand. The efficiencies, and cost savings, for car sharing result from a net decrease in demand for cars, and higher utilization rates for the fleet.

        • Sam Newberg
          Sam Newberg March 22, 2014 at 10:40 am #

          It’s interesting to hear your real life perspective, Matt. I can envision a scenario where someone living in the city, earning minimum wage at a suburban job, owning no car, certainly wouldn’t be able to afford to rent a car for 8 or 9 hours during their shift. It’s a tough problem to solve, short of simply locating jobs near transit.

      • Bill Lindeke
        Bill Lindeke March 20, 2014 at 10:37 am #

        The suburbs are extremely hostile to safe biking, but it doesn’t have to be that way IMO. With those very wide ROWs on most arterials, you could do a lot of things to improve biking.

        The only catch? It would take a big mindshift in mentalities of people living in those cities, and I don’t see that happening.

  9. Cole Hiniker March 20, 2014 at 12:10 am #

    Matt, just want to say that this is a great post and one of the better ones on Streets.mn. The region is working to change the funding dynamic so that investments in existing riders and new riders are more easily comparable for funding opportunities. As Brillhart said, it has largely been a funding source history driven by politics, but also a justifiable opinion that suburban residents did not have any reasonable access to transit. So the investments have not been a failure and have done their part to impact VMT, pollution, etc., which is what the funding programs were set-up to address, right or wrong. It can be political, but politics doesn’t always mean a poor decision, it might just mean a poor decision for you.

    I did want to point out one problem with your technical analysis however. You say that Arterial BRT would be 7.5 times more productive. First of all, park-and-rides generate rides in both directions right? So wouldn’t it be less than 4 times more productive? And also, it depends on how you define productivity. If you are measuring NEW rides that an investment attracts, you’d be talking 3000 vs. roughly 2400. Not quite as dramatic. Also, the Maplewood Mall riders might be traveling further, so if productivity is defined as VMT reduced, you might again be closer. And you also neglect to factor in operating costs. Express services can be the most efficient services in the system from a subsidy per passenger perspective. Arterial BRT can be more expensive. So it’s not quite as simple as 7.5 times…

    But I absolutely agree that parking should be charged at park-and-rides and express fares should be more straight-forward. Might be a possibility at some point and I think $1 would be a good starting point but you might want to think about $2 because the express fair is charged in both directions. Also keep in mind, a lot of people have their passes subsidized though MetroPass on monthly unlimited passes, so that complicates things slightly. I think this would also work better with an increase in parking costs in downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. A local transit fee for the parking spaces in these locations could be used to pay for express services. This would balance out the cost that may make riders shift back to driving, providing a funding source for transit, and potentially encourage more development of empty lots downtown. People would be PISSED though!

    • Matt Brillhart March 20, 2014 at 9:57 am #

      Your 3rd paragraph is just a whole bunch of awesome. I’m really interested in this idea of a “transit fee” implemented for downtown parking ramps. Probably just for monthly contract parking though, as there’s little reason to discourage people from driving/parking downtown during off-peak hours. Downtown needs as many people as it can get after 6pm and on weekends.

      Park and ride users like their express bus service because it is fast, convenient, and less stressful that driving in traffic and parking downtown. Many of them do it to save money on downtown parking costs, but I don’t believe that is the number one factor for many choice express riders. Charging a $1 fee at Metro Transit (incl. MVTA & SWT) structured parking ramps would be a good start. It would be harder to do at surface lots leased from churches, etc.

      Of the existing park & riders turned off by the $1 parking fee, of course some will return to driving. A few that live close enough might start walking or biking as weather permits. A few more may get dropped off by a spouse or carpool with a neighbor to the P&R. We shouldn’t be afraid of change. Even if some do start driving downtown (and they will), it will increase demand on downtown parking that is not increasing supply. In fact, the opposite is happening as more and more surface lots are developed into housing and office space. Even the new massive 1,600 stall ramp next to the new stadium will be fully consumed by Wells Fargo’s relocated employees, so I would argue it’s not truly a net growth in parking supply downtown.

      • Bill Lindeke
        Bill Lindeke March 20, 2014 at 10:41 am #

        A fee that small wouldn’t be worth the overhead of labor and equipment costs to enforce. Either charge a significant amount, or nothing.

        • Matt Steele
          Matt Steele March 20, 2014 at 11:02 am #

          I’m against the fee for other reasons (it’s not tied to actual resources consumed) but I’m not sure the overhead would be a problem. Technology has progressed so fast in the past decade or two that the marginal cost per transaction is now a tiny fraction of what it used to be.

    • Matt Steele
      Matt Steele March 20, 2014 at 10:12 am #

      Interesting, I’ll have to readjust to note that trip count is generally 2x parking count. Thanks for pointing that out!

      I don’t consider VMT reduced as a valid metric… That’s parallel to the metric that made the FTA CEI push anti-urban rail projects for so long. We’re not trying to replace VMT, we’re trying to provide efficient and effective mobility options. People choose how many miles they need to travel for their daily routine. Accommodating higher VMT or VMT-replacement creates perverse incentives for our mobility investments.

      Regarding the comparison of new vs existing, there’s a reason for that. If you add new parking spots, the only people that benefit are those folks who can use the new parking spots. If you improve a local bus route, you’re not only clearly benefiting the new riders it attracts, but the existing riders as well. Granted, that’s not black and white as new parking spots leading to new riders could drive added express frequencies that benefit existing riders. But, as a generalization, I contend it’s true.

      Great point about the parking cost matching the express fare in both directions. You won’t me arguing against charging more for parking… I just tried to keep it as a net wash to start so existing users don’t go nuts, but the existing would be $1.50 instead of $0.75.

      Regarding MetroPass… I used to have one provided by a company, and it was great. I also had a time when I was reimbursed by my consulting company at a flat rate per day for working downtown – they didn’t care if I used it for parking or for bus fare. But I think MetroPasses have a diminishing role in our future commuter transit world. As soon as you’re not commuting by bus nearly every day of every work week, it loses its value proposition. And now with many employees working from home one or a few days a week, it’s more cost effective to pay the fare rather than buying a monthly pass.

      For parking costs… the best thing that will drive up the cost of parking in Minneapolis is already happening… we’re realizing that scarce, valuable downtown land has higher and better uses than storing cars. And we’re rebuilding our downtown.

      We don’t need to impose a “punishment” for people who drive. We just need to end their subsidy. We can no longer afford to subsidize lengthy freeway commutes from the suburbs, at high speeds, during peak commute periods. The obvious market solution? Dynamic congestion pricing of our metro freeways (existing lanes). But clearly that’s a longer-term solution.

      Anyways, thanks for the feedback.

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