As 2009 unfolds, employers in the 12 counties serviced by the MTA — the so-called Metropolitan Commuter Transportation District — will be levied a payroll tax designed to help cover a multi-billion-dollar MTA budget gap. This tax forces everyone to pay for transit. It makes no distinction between those who use the system and those who don’t, between those who drive and intentionally eschew mass transit to the detriment of urban dwellers and those who embrace the subway as a cheap, reasonably efficient and environmentally-friendly way of commuting around New York City.
It doesn’t have to be like that. There are reasonable and feasible, if politically less palatable, solutions to the mass transit funding problem. Furthermore, these proposals help push the goals of a complex and complete mass transit network: They encourage people in transit-rich areas to leave their cars at home and use the social and environmental alternative.
As I took on some of the advocates and reporter who cover mass transit last week, I want to move on to similar topics. One of the problems with the state of mass transit advocacy is that those running the show are not always propagating other solutions. We talk about being anti-fare hike and anti-service cuts, but we also need to be pro-something. Whether that’s pro-payroll tax or pro-congestion fee, it’s important to push these other alternatives while also protesting Albany inaction and the specter of a more expensive subway ride. Over the next few weeks, I’ll explore some alternatives to a payroll tax. Today, we start with on-street parking.
I live in one of the more expensive neighborhoods in Brooklyn. A quick search on Trulia reveals some pretty shocking real estate numbers with homes listed for as much as $1218 per square foot and an average price somewhere around the $700 mark. Meanwhile, to park in this neighborhood costs a grand total of $0 and the need to move the car in question once a week. That makes no sense.
From where I sit right now, I am approximately 0.5 miles away from four subway stops at four different parts of Park Slope that serve, at various times, 10 different subway lines. The Atlantic Ave./Pacific St. station is another ten minutes away. The vast majority of cars, therefore, in this neighborhood are a luxury. Owners have them for weekend getaways and other commutes. Do they have a right to park them for free?
According to Wikipedia’s entry on parking spaces, a curbside space is on average 160 square feet. In real estate terms, using that $700 figure, parking spots could cost up to $112,000. Do we need to provide people in such transit-rich neighborhoods with free on-street parking? Of course not. The city is just squandering a resource for no real reason.
Now, the city could sell parking spots for a one-time fee based upon the neighborhood in which a driver wishes to park and the average real estate value of that land. This would never pass political muster. The more sensible way is to charge rent. Market rent on that 160-square-foot parking space would be a few thousand dollars a year, and that money would quickly solve not only the MTA’s deficit problem but its capital expansion funding issues as well. Those who choose to enjoy the luxury of a car in an urban area can support the subway system that benefits all.
Of course, even a few thousand dollars a year wouldn’t earn political support, but a few hundred bucks for a residential parking permit isn’t outlandish. Washington, DC, charges $15 a year for a parking permit; Philadelphia asks for $35 once and $20 perpetually. New York could charge $200 and still be practically giving away the spaces.
Drivers get defensive about their parking spots, but the city doesn’t need to kowtow to them. We pay to use roads, taxis and subways. Why shouldn’t we be charged for and collect revenue from the spaces on the streets as well?