Greater Greater Washington

Budget


Transit groups ask for parking fee instead of rail service cuts

Several transit advocacy groups, working together in the Transit First! coalition, asked the WMATA Board to try to avoid widening Metrorail weekend headways to close the budget gap, and instead to consider a $1 parking charge at stations which already reach full capacity.


Photo by infosnackhq on Flickr.

Jurisdictions have agreed to contribute substantial additional funding in order to forestall most service cuts. However, the docket being proposed for upcomings hearings still includes widening weekend headways to 20 minutes during the day and 25 minutes after 9:30 pm.

However, no revenue increases were proposed, even as options. In order to even let the Board consider them, they have to be part of the docket for the public hearings. Yesterday, Michael advocated for including fare increase options. The Transit First! letter asks for an option to raise parking rates by $1 at those stations where average weekday occupancy reaches 100%.

Here is the full letter:

April 13, 2011

Ms. Catherine Hudgins
Chair, Board of Directors
Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority
600 Fifth Street NW
Washington, DC 20001

Subject: FY 2012 Operating Budget Hearing Docket

Dear Ms. Hudgins:

The Transit First coalition is representing transit riders, environmentalists, labor, and community groups throughout the Greater Washington area. We commend the WMATA Board of Directors for the thoughtfulness it has demonstrated thus far in preparing the FY 2012 operating budget hearing docket. We are pleased to see that cutting back late night rail service hours is no longer being considered. However, we are concerned by the remaining proposed bus service cuts and proposed significant widening of rail headways on weekends that were discussed at the Board's most recent meeting.

While the widening of rail headways on weekends might at first glance appear innocuous, we believe it would be devastating to weekend travelers. This is because many travelers take more than one rail line to get to their final destinations. Thus, widening of headways would not only extend the wait on two legs of passengers' trips (i.e., origin to destination and then destination back to origin); it would also result in the compounded effect of extending the wait on four or more legs of passengers' trips (i.e., origin to transfer point, transfer point to destination, destination to transfer point, transfer point to origin).

Not only would the round trip be significantly lengthened in this manner, but the likelihood of missing one's transfer would also be significantly impacted. Thus, what appears to be an innocuous increase in travel time of a few minutes in a person's trip could result in an increase in travel time of over 30 minutes, for example. Because weekend rail service headways are already too wide to be considered convenient by many travelers, we believe further increasing headways would further depress weekend ridership numbers and, consequently farebox revenues.

Therefore, we urge that in addition to encouraging increased jurisdictional contributions to close the $72 million operating budget deficit, the Board propose additional revenue-generating options. We recommend establishing a $1 increase in parking fees for those Metrorail stations that have a weekday average occupancy of 100%.

Increasing the parking fee by $1 for those rail stations that have a weekday average occupancy of 100% would not only have the benefit of raising additional revenues, but would also better align parking fees with market demand, in turn resulting in better utilization of parking spaces system-wide. As you know, however, this measure must first be included in the hearing docket in order to be considered for enactment by the Board.

Again, we thank you for your thoughtful consideration and discussion of how to address the FY 2012 operating budget deficit. We urge you to include revenue-generating measures in the hearing docket such as the aforementioned $1 parking fee increase for facilities with a weekday average of 100% occupancy.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Action Committee for Transit
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689
Arlington Coalition for Sensible Transportation
Coalition for Smarter Growth
Greater Greater Washington
Montgomery County Sierra Club
Prince George's Advocates for Community-based Transit

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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You might want to put that your are a signatory in the first paragraph.

How many stations are over 100% WFC and what?

by charlie on Apr 13, 2011 3:29 pm • linkreport

Do you have an estimated guess of how much extra revenue this would generate? I'm curious how much it would raise towards closing the gap.

by Chris L. on Apr 13, 2011 3:37 pm • linkreport

I think we need to let go of free weekend and holiday parking. Why not charge $1 to park on the weekend? It is still an absolute steal in terms of parking.

It might only provide a few tens of thousands of dollars a year, but if there is anything we've learned from federal budget impasses it is that every penny counts.

Also, I agree about lengthening headways. If I'm riding the Metro on a weekend, it is usually because I am relaxed and not really in a hurry. If I was in a hurry, I'd just drive on the less congested roads. But I'm usually not. However, I think WMATA needs to a.) add more benches to stations and b.) swap out benches with something that actually has some contour. I - and I'm sure many others - wouldn't mind waiting an extra 10 minutes for a train if I had something to sit on that wasn't flat backed/bottomed granite.

by Sam on Apr 13, 2011 3:46 pm • linkreport

The Transit First coalition is representing transit riders, environmentalists, labor, and community groups throughout the Greater Washington area.

But apparently you do not represent people who park in the far out popular stations.

by Jasper on Apr 13, 2011 4:04 pm • linkreport

The proposed change applies to lots containing approximately 10,000 parking spaces. The resulting revenue is on the order of $2.0-2.4m per year.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/31302774/Parking-Occupancy-Jan-2010

I used the FY 2010 YTD column.

@Sam: The analyisis I did showed that under reasonable assumptions charging on weekends actually decreases revenue because the increase in parking fees is balanced by the loss in fares. This isn't the case for weekday parking since the lots are full and the ridership loss is assumed small because there is a shortage.

by Michael Perkins on Apr 13, 2011 4:06 pm • linkreport

@Michael, thanks for the input. At what price point did you perform your analysis? Full rates or at a discount? If weekenders are coming into the city, I do not see why there would be a benefit to them if they have to pay $10 to park in town. If you based your assumptions off full rates, I agree; it would be more cost effective to park in town than pay full parking+Metro. But a discounted parking rate+Metro should still be more cost effective than parking in town.

by Sam on Apr 13, 2011 4:12 pm • linkreport

I'm going to do a very, VERY rough estimate on revenue:

According to an old report from 2006, WMATA had 61,000 that, in FY06, generated $51 million in revenue. Let's increase the revenue numbers by 6% for the sake of growth (I'm guessing), giving us $54 million in revenue. If we increase it again by 20%, which is what a $1 fee increase would give us, then we'd have $64.9 million.

In short, in my extremely rough estimate raising rates on all lots would bring $13.9 million more to the system.

Maybe somebody has newer, better numbers?

by OctaviusIII on Apr 13, 2011 4:15 pm • linkreport

Aaaand, Michael beat me to it. Thanks!

by OctaviusIII on Apr 13, 2011 4:16 pm • linkreport

Jasper: Actually, this change would help people who live near far-out stations but can't park today because their lot is full.

My dad was down here for a conference and someone from a government agency located in Montgomery County not right near a Metro station was almost late to his panel. Why? Because he said he drove to a Metro station and couldn't park because it was full. And then he went to another station and it was full.

If this price increase went into effect, some people might carpool or bike or walk or get rides to that station instead, leaving some more spaces which he might have been able to take advantage of.

by David Alpert on Apr 13, 2011 4:24 pm • linkreport

If this price increase went into effect, some people might carpool or bike or walk or get rides to that station instead, leaving some more spaces which he might have been able to take advantage of.

DAl, could the benefit of the increase end up being the same as the thought process behind the peak of the peak fares - that people would forego paying the extra money and opt for boarding after the peak time?

Seems like the same could happen here especially if the commuting demographic remains unchanged.

by HogWash on Apr 13, 2011 4:30 pm • linkreport

HogWash: I think I agree with what you are saying. If some people don't drive to the station and other people go to a station that's not full, it's better.

Ultimately, Metro has a certain number of parking spaces. It's not even like the trains where you can squeeze a bit more. Once X cars are there, more cars get turned away. If you're charging $A for the spaces and they're all filled, try charging $A+1.

If they still are all filled, you have more money and the same number of riders (or more), because each car still has at least 1 person and maybe now some people carpool. If they're not all filled, maybe now there is some room for people who want to come in later in the day.

by David Alpert on Apr 13, 2011 4:36 pm • linkreport

To Jasper's point, it's a shame there aren't groups representing folks in the 'burbs advocating this for the same reasons groups from the core are. This may be technically the best, but policy isn't always the technical best, and sometimes for good reasons.

by OctaviusIII on Apr 13, 2011 5:01 pm • linkreport

Before suburban commuters get another parking increase, WMATA needs to get control of its labor costs and institute good financial and operational controls (Fairfax County works to do this; why shouldn't WMATA?) Also, bus fares should be raised to the point where the taxpayer subsidy for bus service is no larger than the subsidy for rail riders (in terms of portion of the operating costs recovered by fares.) If these actions cannot be taken, Virginia should be allowed to remove itself form the WMATA bus service program. Virginia will continue to use rail, so we must pay for this service. But we should not have to pay for D.C.-like inefficiencies in WMATA.

by tmtfairfax on Apr 13, 2011 5:07 pm • linkreport

@ Sam But a discounted parking rate+Metro should still be more cost effective than parking in town

Not really. Lets assume a family of 4 going from Glenmont to the White house (Metro Center). They would shell out $22 for metro fares, while if they drove, parking, gas, and depreciation would cost them about the same amount. Then the only "rational" considerations should be time, and when you may get smacked with a 20 min headway or single tracking it becomes a no brainier.

That being said, most people don't consider the "true costs" of operating the car, and just think it costs 10 bucks to drive into town, so it's not only cheaper than the 22 bucks for metro, you don't have to deal with the crappy weekend service.

by Annon on Apr 13, 2011 5:09 pm • linkreport

I think the issue of parking on weekends needs to be looked at in more detail. First, most of the local jurisdictions with metered street parking like Arlington, Alexandria, and DC enforce the parking on Saturdays at least during the day. Second, a LOT of people work on Saturdays and if you've ever tried to find parking in downtown DC on a Saturday then you know it is not easy. It's true those with monthly permits in building garages can park free on weekends but those are the people riding Metro. I believe that a modest charge of $1 charged on Saturdays until 2pm could actually increase revenue. One way to test this hypothesis would be start charging for parking on one leg of one line (the Orange line Vienna leg) and see what happens to ridership and revenue on Saturdays.

by ArlingtonResident on Apr 13, 2011 5:20 pm • linkreport

I placed a copy of the spreadsheet I used to analyze weekend parking charges in my sugarsync "Public GGW" folder:

https://www.sugarsync.com/share/bf95k8ehw5r58

Assumptions were basically that the parking lots only get about 12% occupancy on weekends and holidays (based on WMATA data), the charge would be $2.50 per car (equal to a WMATA analysis at the time), and that weekend cars would have more people in them because weekend metro trips are more likely leisure with family/friends than commuting alone.

Let me see if I can dig up the discussion I had with Dr. Shoup about this.

by Michael Perkins on Apr 13, 2011 5:23 pm • linkreport

This has been covered before, but the federal benefit does not include metro parking?

by Charlie on Apr 13, 2011 5:39 pm • linkreport

@tmtfairfax

Each jurisdiction pays for its own bus subsidies. Fairfax technically isn't paying anything to subsidize bus lines in other jurisdictions.

In addition, trying to get bus subsidies to match those of rail is foolhardy and not the point of public transportation. Not even gas taxes for road construction and maintenance would reach the fare box recovery levels of rail. But, like I said, that's not the point.

by Adam L on Apr 13, 2011 5:41 pm • linkreport

The only thing I could find was the notes I wrote when I sent the spreadsheet to some other advocates:

I did a bunch of calculations (spreadsheet attached) and the results are highly sensitive to assumptions about which we have no real data. Under WMATA assumptions, I calculate a net revenue gain of $1.5M Great!

However, using more reasonable assumptions about current parking lot occupancy, number of riders per car, price elasticity for parking on weekends compared to workdays, and a "fudge factor" I threw in to account for people unwilling to pay $5 extra for a Smartrip card and the people that for whatever reason refuse to pay even a nickel for parking, I get a $200,000 loss for WMATA. The results are all over the place and could result in anywhere from a $350,000 loss to a gain of $1.6M based on adjusting the parameters to reasonable worst and best cases together. (go ahead and try it out, vary the parameters in "green" and view the result at the bottom)

Looks like I could turn this into a post when I get time. I found discussions I had with Shoup, Litman, and some staff members in my gmail.

by Michael Perkins on Apr 13, 2011 5:43 pm • linkreport

@charlie: that's correct, federal benefit doesn't pay for parking.

by Michael Perkins on Apr 13, 2011 5:45 pm • linkreport

Can someone explain how increasing headways is ever sound policy? It's the equivalent of entering a deflationary tailspin: the longer the headway, the less people will rely on Metro on the weekends, the lower the revenues on the weekends, and the greater the budget gap the following year.

It seems to me if you reduced the headway by 3 or 4 minutes, you'd actually see an uptick in revenue. Or you should, unless there are other inefficiencies in the system (perhaps answering my own question).

I know I personally avoid the Metro on the weekends (particularly at the end of the night) because I know the headways are going to be so unbearably extended.

I live in Pentagon City close to the Metro, but inevitably a Metro ride from there into the heart of the city or coming back is a 45-minute plus endeavor unless you time the headway exactly right, and if I have to switch trains to get on the Red? Forget it. A cab ride is almost never more than 10 minutes, especially going out of the city.

by Matt on Apr 13, 2011 6:18 pm • linkreport

You should send this to someone else, because Hudgins is going to get her seat yanked out from her -- and rightfully so.

by TGEoA on Apr 13, 2011 6:19 pm • linkreport

@matt: It's not. With the headways Metro currently runs, decreasing headways is a bad idea. Maybe if we were talking about cutting from 10 minutes to 12, this could work.

Metro is not allowed to run a deficit. The jurisdictions determine what the funding level for Metro is. If it's not enough to cover the service, we either need higher fares or less service.

The judge just ruled that the latest raises given to the union did not meet the standards for arbitration, so there is something along that cost-reduction front.

by Michael Perkins on Apr 13, 2011 6:57 pm • linkreport

@ David Alpert: If this price increase went into effect, some people might carpool or bike or walk or get rides to that station instead, leaving some more spaces which he might have been able to take advantage of.

So, why do you always (rightfully) argue that the free market does not apply when it comes to transit, except when we're talking about parking spots? Following the train of thought that when transit options are popular, there should be more, you should not be arguing for higher parking rates, but for more parking near those far-out stations.

There is a great fraud being perpetrated on people who live near the far-out stations with parking lots. They were promised free parking to make up for the absent and unaffordable bus service in their neighborhood. They planned their lives accordingly, stopped using the big clogged roads reducing congestion, and took metro. And now, because many people behave responsibly, they need to pay more.

This does not make sense.

[And you can skip the Shoup talk on the cost of free parking. It does not apply here, because the parking is part of a transit system]

by Jasper on Apr 13, 2011 9:24 pm • linkreport

I'm surprised that no one has mentioned this straight out but instead of a flat increase for parking what about congestion rate increases, just as they have it for Metro fares (regular, peak of the peak). You have a meter that counts the number of cars entering, as the parking approaches capacity the rate becomes higher. It works in London and on the ICC, why not here? The only change I would make is that all lots should work that way, not just suburban ones.

As for fairness, I can see how increases in parking rates seem disproportionate compared to those who live in closer in. They pay more to use the system based on distance, why should they pay more to park? The problem with that argument is that it assumes that parking is an infinite commodity (WMATA can just keep providing cheap parking) the additional cost of parking is captured in the higher fares. Clearly, that's not the case.

It costs tens of millions of dollars to build and maintain lots and garages, which the parking rates may not cover. In addition, the building of all that parking limits the potential other uses of that land, which could generate more money. The acres of parking in Greenbelt come to mind. If metro sold its lots, (which I think is a bad idea) I would imagine that parking rates would increase to cover the true operational costs and the forgoing of other land uses.

by Randall M. on Apr 14, 2011 8:14 am • linkreport

The war on cars continues....

by TGEoA on Apr 14, 2011 8:16 am • linkreport

The war on cars continues....

Cue sound of history's tiniest violin playing the saddest song ever written.

by oboe on Apr 14, 2011 8:46 am • linkreport

@oboe

Good thing this letter will have as much impact as a letter you write to your representatives

by TGEoA on Apr 14, 2011 8:54 am • linkreport

War On The Disenfranchised!!!

by oboe on Apr 14, 2011 9:08 am • linkreport

OK. Over 100% turnover at a station already means there are a lot of short-term parkers. How is adding a $1 surcharge to those stations going to help? If anything, we want to encourage shorter-term parking, because that means more Metro rides.

by charlie on Apr 14, 2011 9:40 am • linkreport

charlie: It's not 100% turnover, it's 100% utilization. The number of cars equals or exceeds the number of spaces.

When a station has 104% utilization, that's because there's been a little turnover so that some spaces are getting used twice. But at Metro commuter lots the vast, vast, vast majority of drivers are parking all day.

Metro could certainly experiment with a lower fee for shorter time periods. It's probably a worthwhile thing to look at.

by David Alpert on Apr 14, 2011 9:45 am • linkreport

@dalpert; OK, I am not trying to be obtuse here.

So, the life of one spot:

8am to 5pm: 1 person uses it

7pm to 9 pm : 1 perso uses it

that is 200% utilization, no? I can see your argument about finding ways to get rid of car 1 -- although they are a better customer -- but it seems as if you would want car 2 - since they are also a rail customer.

You could probably bump up parking across the board $1 without too much change in usage. Pretending it about capacity control is misleading.

by charlie on Apr 14, 2011 9:56 am • linkreport

I want to dispel the notion that you cant park at wfc at anytime of day. There is a private lot right across the street from the station that never fills up. Historically their price has matched meyros parking charge so if wmata raised the cost by $1 i'm sure they would too.

by Falls church on Apr 14, 2011 10:20 am • linkreport

charlie: That's true, and this is why the utilization rate is imperfect. It would be better to do some kind of random check where someone drives/walks around the lot periodically to estimate how full it is.

Metro is also moving to new parking systems where they will be able to count cars entering and exiting at the gates and know in real time how many cars really are there.

However, imperfect doesn't mean useless. If a lot has 100% or more utilization it is one of the most crowded lots. We know for sure that at many of the lots, people indeed can't park because there's no space. Raising the rates on those is still a good strategy even if we can't say for sure whether it's got 5 spaces free or zero at any given time.

by David Alpert on Apr 14, 2011 10:36 am • linkreport

@Jasper
There is a great fraud being perpetrated on people who live near the far-out stations with parking lots. They were promised free parking to make up for the absent and unaffordable bus service in their neighborhood. They planned their lives accordingly, stopped using the big clogged roads reducing congestion, and took metro. And now, because many people behave responsibly, they need to pay more.

Puh-leez. Sure, they were "promised" free parking back in 1975, but guess what? Situations change. Metro has to get some kind of reimbursement because parking garages cost a lot to build and maintain. If they don't like it they are free to battle the traffic and pay to park in a garage downtown. Don't act like somehow people are held hostage by Metro.

by MLD on Apr 14, 2011 10:51 am • linkreport

@MLD:

We were also promised congestion-free highways. And jetpacks.

by oboe on Apr 14, 2011 11:14 am • linkreport

Ride Metro: Free ponies for all!

by MLD on Apr 14, 2011 11:28 am • linkreport

@ MLD: Metro has to get some kind of reimbursement because parking garages cost a lot to build and maintain.

I wasn't here in 1975, but I do not think the garages were built for free. So, that money was there.

My point here is mostly an inconsistency in the argument that David is making. He (rightfully) often argues that transit should not be financed through free-market mechanisms (just like freeways aren't). However, oddly, he does not argue so for transfer garages. Supposedly, people who park & ride, are behaving like urbanists want: They take transit, with all the benefits that come with it. It is inconsistent to charge for that.

To put it differently; If you argue that you *want* people to use transit in stead of driving, it is inconsistent to increase pricing on people who use transit, as compared to driving.

by Jasper on Apr 14, 2011 1:45 pm • linkreport

@Jasper
I wasn't here in 1975, but I do not think the garages were built for free. So, that money was there.
Like I said, "situations change." If you're gonna argue that parking at Metro should be free forever just because it was in 1975 I think that's a non-starter. Metro has to find revenue streams because people are not willing to cough up the tax dollars to fund it. If people are willing to pay for parking then we should charge for it.

My point here is mostly an inconsistency in the argument that David is making. He (rightfully) often argues that transit should not be financed through free-market mechanisms (just like freeways aren't). However, oddly, he does not argue so for transfer garages. Supposedly, people who park & ride, are behaving like urbanists want: They take transit, with all the benefits that come with it. It is inconsistent to charge for that.
1. Transit is not immune to market influences. I have no idea what you mean by "transit should not be financed through free-market mechanisms" - mass transit like Metro obviously should not be privatized but it is a business and serves customers just like any other business, and is affected by market influences like gas prices, the unemployment rate etc. If tomorrow the DC government bought up all the (non-metro) parking garages in the city and made them free, don't you think that would have an effect on Metro? So I do not believe there is an inconsistency here.
2. It's not inconsistent to charge for something just because people are doing something we like. Metro fares could be free, but that would mean lots of people who don't use Metro and don't have the opportunity for doing so would be paying a big share of the costs. I don't think that's right and neither does any major transit system in the entire world, as far as I know.

I think you're missing a key point here: that charging more for one parking garage could actually enable MORE people to use Metro. Right now, there are parking garages that fill up at 8:30 in the morning. People who get to the garage after that time, what do they do? Some probably drive to another station. But I bet many more are forced to just drive into the city and park there. If you charge more for a garage that is currently ALWAYS full, you may encourage some of those people who are able to do so to change their commute so that they park at another station every day - opening up a spot at the original station for one of those people who was shut out before.

by MLD on Apr 14, 2011 2:11 pm • linkreport

Maryland and Virginia jurisdictions have implied that they will pay more subsidy, and not support the widening of headways. Additionally, the bus routes up for discussion are DC routes, with some bleeding into Maryland being considered regional. With Virginia and Maryland already indicating that they will pay additional subsidy to ensure current service and fare levels, why tax the riders that park (MD and VA long haul commuters) even more for a DC related budget issue? That does not seem too equitable of a proposition right there. Those same riders would be paying more at the parking lot, and also more in their tax bills since that's where their jurisdiction's increased subsidy originates.

How about instead a $1 additional charge, targeting DC residents, in the morning for all entries into DC metro stations to be equitable? Obviously that's just a joke, but to price out drivers who have chosen to park and metro to DC will eventually drive them back on the roads, depriving the system of revenue, and flying in the face of public transit initiatives.

by Jason on Apr 15, 2011 4:26 pm • linkreport

Adam,

"Each jurisdiction pays for its own bus subsidies. Fairfax technically isn't paying anything to subsidize bus lines in other jurisdictions."

I asked a Fairfax County supervisor about County subsidies to WMATA and basic services.

Here's what I was told.

"Fund 309, Metro Operations and Construction, contains the funds provided by Fairfax County to pay the County’s
allocated portion of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's (WMATA) FY 2012 operating and capital
budget. The County subsidizes Metrorail, Metrobus, and MetroAccess (paratransit) service, contributes to
construction costs associated with the 106-mile Metrorail system, and contributes to the repair, maintenance,
rehabilitation, and replacement of capital equipment and facilities for the Metrobus, Metrorail, and MetroAccess
systems.

"The County's portion of the total WMATA budget is determined using several formulas that include factors
such as jurisdiction of residence of passengers, number of stations located in a jurisdiction, the amount of
service in a jurisdiction, the jurisdiction’s population, and the jurisdiction’s population density. The County meets its Metro subsidy through a General Fund transfer, General Obligation bonds, applied State Aid, Gas Tax receipts, and interest earnings on State Aid balances. State Aid and Gas Tax balances are held and directly disbursed to Metro by the
Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC)."

I strongly suspect that a majority of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors from both political parties would vote for raising bus fares to a level that produces roughly the same level of fare contribution to operating costs as rail passengers contribute.

by tmtfairfax on Apr 15, 2011 5:45 pm • linkreport

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