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Want to Increase Transit Usage? Ditch Free Parking, Says Study

Monday, August 04, 2014 - 11:10 AM

free parking, monopoly (Chris Potter/flickr)

Commuters respond to incentives. When given a choice between using public transit benefits or driving to work, commuters in the Washington metropolitan area opt for the former, according to researchers at Virginia Tech University.

But when their employers offer free parking, they are more likely to ditch the bus, train, or bicycle and hop into their cars.

“Not offering parking for free to employees will entice people to use other modes of transport. As long as you provide ample free parking you can offer all sorts of other benefits, but people will still drive,” said Ralph Buehler, an associate professor in urban affairs and planning at the university.

Buehler and Virginia Tech colleague and lead researcher Andrea Hamre surveyed 4,630 regular commuters in the D.C. region.

In a paper published in the Journal of Public Transportation (pdf), Hamre and Buehler determined commuters offered either public transportation benefits or showers/lockers and/or bike parking, but no free car parking, are more likely to either ride public transportation, walk, or cycle to work.

“The joint provision of benefits for public transportation, walking, and cycling is related to an increased likelihood to commute by all three of these modes and a decreased likelihood of driving,” Buehler said. “However, the inclusion of free car parking in benefit packages alongside benefits for public transportation, walking, and cycling, seems to offset the effect of these incentives.”

The paper is being published at a time when the District is engaged in an intense debate over how to limit traffic congestion in downtown Washington.

In its MoveDC plan, the District Department of Transportation is proposing a form of congestion pricing by placing tolls on key commuter routes leading into the city. The goal is to keep traffic levels constant over the next several decades while providing commuters alternatives to the automobile.

Also, D.C. zoning officials are considering a controversial proposal to reduce the minimum number of parking spaces developers would be required to build when putting up new office and residential buildings in downtown Washington and near Metro stations. The potential reduction in mandatory parking minimums is part of the long-in-the-works rewrite of the District’s zoning code, last updated in 1958.

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Comments [9]

Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY

Bronx, not every study has been proven to be true. Some of them can be biased at times. For example, I will find any study done by Streetsblog or Transportation Alternatives to be biased when it comes to cars, because they are known for having a bias against them. Just because it was found by researchers doesn't always make it true. Also, statistics don't tell the whole story especially when they only give the effects while never mentioning the causes. Meanwhile, I can say how many times a good portions of your comments are personal attacks aimed at me, and I feel that you should be banned for saying such vulgarity. Also, I don't demand anyone who doesn't agree with me to be censored, but I can cite where you have called for that on me. Again, try looking at the causes for why do some drive. Maybe that person would drive from Flushing to Court Square, because they don't live en route 7 train, which is the subway for that area or they could be working a night shift, which is probably something you didn't know, so trying looking at other possible scenarios, not just that they choose to drive for the fun of it.

Aug. 07 2014 04:21 PM
Bronx from NYC

I didn't call you a conservative, but you have no legitimate facts to back your claims in the face of the above analysis. Just a bunch of talk from your anecdotal perspective. 90% of the stuff you post over and over again is recycled from your previous postings and irrelevant.

Let's see your peer reviewed parking analysis study...

It is true that at this time some people need to drive into and around NYC (mostly, suburban residents), but most people don't. The biggest issue is RESIDENTS of the city driving when they can walk, take mass transit or bike. This is a huge problem in NYC. Even with low levels of car ownership/leasing, we have too many people driving from areas like Flushing to Court Sq. There is NOT ENOUGH ROOM.

Aug. 07 2014 03:32 AM
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY

First of all, that comment from Bronx was highly insulting and uncalled, plus I haven't used any of that on those who didn't agree with me. Also, I'm not a conservative just for opposing such ideas, and keep in mind that the most vocal opponents to congestion pricing in NYC happened to be liberal, and I hate Fox News. Whatever you say about me being biased, I can easily refute that back at you for being biased from a rider's standpoint. Some of the sources only give the effects, but never the causes, which tells the real story here. The only things that are subsidized when it comes to driving in the infrastructure that is being used and that's the highways, roads, bridges, and tunnels, but not anything else. Meanwhile, transit is heavily subsidized by not only motorists, but also numerous other taxes just to keep the fares low. BTW, parking premiums aren't a subsidy either, and they do lower the number of those circling around for a space. The reality of the situation is that those that live on the very outskirts or even suburbs of a city will always drive in because they don't have any other viable alternatives for them. Part of that has to do with the fact that commuter trains and buses have sporadic schedules, so this won't work if their workday doesn't go with to get the peak hour prices that are lesser. Meanwhile, the special express buses only go to Manhattan during the morning rush hours while leaving Manhattan during the evening rush hours, so this also won't work if their work schedule doesn't coincide with them. Try working the late night shift when commuter trains are shut down for the night, and you will see why those workers are better off driving to get home sooner. You are very lucky to live where there is a lot of transit options, but that's not the case for everyone else. The reason why I live where I do is mainly because of affordability, not by what I think is better. If I could afford to live in a well transit oriented area, then would have done that already, but I can't. BTW, it's very common to hear a liberal oppose any form of road pricing, because they will see it as a regressive tax. One other thing, NYC isn't DC so not everything that can work there will work here. Overall, there are ways to give an incentive to not drive by making viable alternatives rather than punishing them with some road pricing plan that only pits groups against each other. Then again, getting you to understand that is sort of the equivalence of getting the Muslims Brotherhood to accept Israel as a Jewish state, which is why you tend to refuse to understand the causes to driving. As for Donald Shoup, don't bring him up, because his ideas are very regressive for parking. On a side note, privatizing metered parking isn't doing well in Chicago nor is the Smart Park helping SF, which is now taking steps back.

Aug. 06 2014 03:50 PM
Bronx from NYC

Tal Barzilai is the most non-scientific commentator you will find lurking the comments section on a regular basis.

Tal Barzilai versus the transportation experts of the world.

This guy is completely incapable of looking outside his box. Dude gets his information from what he thinks is correct (the viewpoint of a suburban driver), and fails to cite any credible academic publication that utilizes quantitative analysis.

Tal's unscientific point of view or wrong. You should work for Fox News guy.

Aug. 05 2014 10:13 PM
TOM from Brooklyn

Eliminating parking minimums won't deter developers from getting every last dollar out of the deal. The cost of land is the acknowledged big nut here, not the cost to build. Access to on-site parking to the buyers who can afford to buy/rent is important to the deal. In fact, it is a deal-breaker.

Try to remember, the wide streets and curbed sidewalks were mapped the automobile and were provided 'free' by the City to guarantee access for buyers to building sites, along with water, sewer and other utilities. Again, a deal-breaker. Otherwise, nobody would live here. Also, the suburbs had their origins pre-WWI, a hundred years ago, not fifty. Price of land in large enough tracts in the city was that high back then too.

Are you following this?

Aug. 05 2014 09:58 PM
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY

Those that make claim that driving is heavily subsidized are usually either wrong or in some double standard. The only thing that this really being subsidized at all in driving in roads and highways that we use, but not anything else. I pay for many other services and fees, and none of that is subsidized. As for parking, it's not subsidized just because it's not metered, plus this goes back to mentioning taxes for transit and infrastructure with a couple of other taxes such as the gas tax. The reason I have been against raising tolls or even the gas tax is because NY has the highest in both of these yet the roads are still in bad shape, which makes me ask where much of it is really going to, because that doesn't seem to be the case, but the politicians and anti-car fanatics still push for this. BTW, I can easily say how transit is heavily subsidized, and that's not just for tracks, but for what is using them as well. Keep in mind it's those who are forced to pay for high tolls and gas prices that are the ones keeping your transit fares low. When tolls go up, they don't go up in quarters like fares do. Again, try looking at the causes to why some of us choose driving, and it's more like being something we have to do rather than something that we want to do, because a lot of those that drive come from areas where alternatives are almost non-existent, and ideas such as road pricing does nothing more than add insult to injury at them. It's great that you guys live in areas where you don't need a car to get around, but the rest of us can't afford that on our income, so please understand that. Let's not forget why congestion pricing or even placing new tolls lost in NYC, and the main reason was because they were seen as being regressive in their nature. Even London, where congestion pricing was modeled after has been recently been taking steps back on it, and that to has to do with being a regressive tax. In reality, if you want to make an incentive to those to switch to taking mass transit over driving, then make it better and more viable to them so that they don't have to drive rather than making it hard for them that only pits groups against each other. On a side note, what's with the call for censorship on me when I don't call for anyone who says something I don't like to be censored?

Aug. 05 2014 03:51 PM
Sandra Bolton from Unpleasantville

Someone needs to give Tal an incentive to stfu.

Aug. 05 2014 02:32 PM
AMHess from Harlem

This should be fairly obvious--people respond to the incentives they are given. Automobile use has been (and still is) subsidized far more than transit, so we shouldn't be surprised that so many choose to use it -- it seems less expensive due to things like "free" parking. Lowering or removing outdated parking minimums will reduce the cost of new construction and add some rationality back into the equation.

Aug. 05 2014 01:52 PM
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY

If you really want to make transit usage much better, then improve it so that there won't be a need for driving. However, some are coming from areas where there are no viable alternatives to driving, and reducing their needs is adding insult to injury especially when it involves something congestion pricing. BTW, many of those so-called free parking spaces are already being paid for via taxes for infrastructure. Placing more meters or having parking permits is like a restaurant training to double tip their customers. Try thinking about the causes to why there are those that choose to drive rather than the effects, and then you will understand why it's done like that.

Aug. 04 2014 09:58 PM

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