Home Public Transit Policy Funding transit through market-rate parking spots

Funding transit through market-rate parking spots

by Benjamin Kabak

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?

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anonymouse July 6, 2009 - 1:01 am

The whole notion of curbside parking is pretty absurd if you think about it. If you leave just about anything else on the side of the street that’s not tied down, eventually the garbage truck will come and take it away, on the quite reasonable assumption that you no longer want it.

zz July 6, 2009 - 9:18 am

Bravo. Thank you for elevating the public discourse.

Kai B July 6, 2009 - 9:28 am

I’d pay for a parking spot in a lot or a garage if there were any within reasonable distance. Another downside to parking on the street is your car will get damaged within a month.

Oh, and for some reason in my neighborhood (Greenpoint), I have to move it twice a week, despite the streets being ridiculously clean.

GaryTrolley July 6, 2009 - 9:36 am

Excellent points, There is enough market demand for spaces to park to even replace and lower taxes. When we give parking spaces away for less than the market value it is an injustice to all who try to do without a car.

John July 6, 2009 - 10:22 am

And don’t forget about the secondary income from parking tickets too. Once you start charging for parking permits, you’ll need to enforce it too, which means parking tickets. Of course it also means the expense of enforcing it, but hopefully the revenue will be greater.

Benjamin Kabak July 6, 2009 - 10:27 am

I can’t imagine enforcement will be all that more expensive that the current parking enforcement efforts.

But your comment made me free associate my way to another benefit: in-state registration requirements. Walk around Park Slope today, and you will see license plates from all over. These are people who live in NYC but, for reasons mostly related to the state’s registration fees, have never registered their cars in state. Residential parking permits would make up for that lost state revenue with in-state cars perhaps paying less for their parking permits.

Working Class July 6, 2009 - 11:27 am

It has NOTHING to do with the registration fees. The out of state plates are because of the ridiculous insurance rates paid in NY and especially NYC.

Streetsblog New York City » Paying for a More Comfortable Transit Ride July 6, 2009 - 10:41 am

[…] Second Avenue Sagas has this proposal: Use market-rate parking to fund transit. […]

Josh July 6, 2009 - 11:29 am

If you make people pay to park their cars where they live, at a flat rate (whether it’s $15/year or $200/year), they’re just going to drive more to take best advantage of the money they’re putting in. Maybe a few people will decide it’s not worth the parking fee and get rid of their cars, but for those who are left the incentive is just to drive more. If you want to discourage people from commuting by car, you need to charge them to park where they’re going, not where they’re starting.

Benjamin Kabak July 6, 2009 - 12:04 pm

Generally, the more you charge people simply for owning a car, the less likely they are to own one. That’s the theory behind residential parking permits in New York City. Considering that the plan also makes parking in other neighborhoods tougher, it shouldn’t encourage more driving.

Chris July 6, 2009 - 11:29 am

This might be acceptable for neighborhoods that are well-served by subways, but is unacceptable in neighborhoods that are not. At best the permit cost should scale down the further the residence is from an active station stop.


Benjamin Kabak July 6, 2009 - 12:03 pm

Neighborhoods that are not well served by the subway also do not have real estate values as high as those that do. My solution is tie parking rates into neighborhood real estate values.

Meanwhile, the revenues collected from the parking rates can be siphoned back into public transit upgrades. Those neighborhoods far from adequate subway service can enjoy the benefits of BRT lanes that bring commuters from their homes to the subway.

Scott E July 6, 2009 - 1:20 pm

I’m not so sure that’s true; especially in Queens. Go to areas like Whitestone and Douglaston, which have rather expensive housing (and front lawns to go with the housing) and there’s no subway access at all. (Although Douglaston does have an LIRR stop).

The size of the houses, the amount of overcrowding, local schools, and views of bridges (?), as well as subway access, contribute to real estate costs. A direct correlation between parking costs and real estate costs isn’t really the way to do it.

SEAN July 6, 2009 - 4:34 pm

I think you ment where there’s no rail or Subway service.

Housing prices are usually higher where transit is plentyful. The Texas Transportation Institute @ UT Austin reported that when rapid transit is within a half mile of housing & shopping there’s an increase of riders. Also housing prices jump 40%on average. For commercial property that figure is about 50%.

Lets take a look at two examples.

1. NJT’s M & E lines-when the connection was made between the NEC & THEMorristown line in 1995 home prices jumped 20% because now there was direct service into Penn Station from such towns as Summit, Milburn & Maplewood.

2. Forest Hills Queens-an area that has everything within a short distance from home & no car required. If there was a flaw in the neighborhood it would be the challenge of crossing Queens Boulevard. It is negated by passing through the subway station at Contenental Avenue. Also there is plenty of local shopping on the nearby streets.

With LIRR trains, express subway service into Manhattan & the Q23 & Q60 BUS LINES running so frequentlyA CAR ISN’T NESSESSARY MOST OF THE TIME. Especially if you live in FH gardens.

Scott E July 6, 2009 - 8:59 pm

Sean, I have to disagree with you here. Commuter rail does not substitute rapid transit (subways). Those who live near the subway rely on it, or live within walking distance to, everyday errands (groceries, clothes shopping, banking, etc). Those people in the NJ towns you mentioned, as well as the Queens areas I mentioned, still need a car for everyday purchases – they just don’t need it to drive to work (but a quick look at the train station parking lot shows that they DO use it for a portion of the commute!)

SEAN July 7, 2009 - 5:28 pm

I never implied LIRR in substitution for the subway in the Forest Hills example. It was LIRR, the Q23/ Q60 buses & the subway for maximum mobility. Infact on the south side of the Gardens subdivision you have Q54 busses on Metropoliton Avenue as well. Nearby the Q 11, 21, 53 & QM15 ALSO TRAVEL ALONG THAT STRETCH AT VERRIOUS POINTS.

SEAN July 7, 2009 - 5:55 pm

In the burbs of course you are more likely to drive, however that to is beginning to change. In the case of summit a former supermarket was turned into what else, CVS. You will find that all over the metro area. Just imagine if those grocery stores stayed open undernew management, you wouldn’t need to drive every time you needed to go food shopping. Remember most of those stores are right smack dab in the middle of town near transit & could be part of a community masterplan. Same could be said for
several city neighborhoods as well.
It is time to change the car mindset. It won’t be easy, but it’s nessessary.

AlexB July 7, 2009 - 2:27 pm

TX Transportation Institute is at A&M in College Station. Big difference.

Streetsblog San Francisco » Paying for a More Comfortable Transit Ride July 6, 2009 - 12:14 pm

[…] Second Avenue Sagas has this proposal: Use market-rate parking to fund transit. […]

StreetsPariah July 6, 2009 - 12:31 pm

As a transit rider and a car owner, I support this idea wholeheartedly. Then again, I also supported East River bridge tolls and congestion pricing, too. (I can’t be the only person who sometimes drives a car who sees these policies as a boon to everyone, can I?)

As an aside, I resisted registering my car in NY for years, then when I finally bit the bullet, I found that my insurance got cut in half from $100/month to $50/month. Your results may vary, but just throwing that out there.

SEAN July 6, 2009 - 4:38 pm

Your right on.

Jonathan July 6, 2009 - 12:53 pm

One issue that I’ve seen raised about parking permits is that they make owning a car more attractive than using rental cars or car-sharing services, because you can’t park a temporary-use car in your own neighborhood. OTOH, a flexible system that allows for visitor or temporary permits also allows for out-of-state and multiple registrations.

Another issue is that once people start paying for something, they start to regard it as an entitlement. It will make it harder to remove parking spaces in the future, which in my opinion is the way to discourage driving and transit use.

I would prefer to see a system of long-term munimeters instead of permits.

AndyT July 6, 2009 - 6:53 pm

For a look at how this works in practice, see for example, the borough of Kensington and Chelsea in London’s main Parking Page which includes an FAQ.

The actual rates can be found in this form. They are now based on the carbon emissions of your vehicle, staring at $107 and going up to $250 a year if you have a highly polluting car registered after Mar 2006.

These schemes have been running for decades in London. It’s amazing NYC doesn’t charge for street parking.

Al D July 7, 2009 - 11:00 am

You will chase people out of the city in droves!!

Benjamin Kabak July 7, 2009 - 11:18 am

Because someone took away their precious and unnecessarily free parking spots? I highly highly doubt it. The vast majority of the 8 million people who live here don’t come for the good parking.

AlexB July 7, 2009 - 2:36 pm

$700/square foot for an apt or house includes the cost of finishes, mechanical systems, a roof, etc. There is no way pavement on dirt would get that much. You’d have to find the cost of land, although it would still probably be ridiculously high.

I understand that at some times, up to 50% of traffic in park slope is people looking to park their cars. Obviously, simply having a permit would decrease this traffic.

Charging people for a parking space is a good idea, but if the fee is too low, it is not. It has to be quite high in order to actually prohibit people from owning a car.

I read something on Streetsblog one time that the rate of people who drive in a neighborhood is not based on car ownership, but on the ability to park. The examples used were Jackson Heights and Park Slope. In Park Slope, there is no off street (guaranteed) parking. In Jackson Heights, there is a lot. Both neighborhoods have similar levels of car ownership. People who live and own cars in Jackson Heights were much more likely to drive into Manhattan, probably because they knew they had a spot waiting for them when they got home again.

If you give people in Prospect Heights, Williamsburg, Carroll Gardens, Park Slope, etc. guaranteed parking spots via expensive parking permits, you might see a slight decrease in car ownership and traffic due to people looking for a spot, and overall car ownership, but you will also probably see an increase in car traffic between the neighborhood and Manhattan. After all, if someone is going to spend top dollar to have their own bit of reserved street space, they are going to use it.

Duke87 July 7, 2009 - 7:11 pm

Another qualifier: if you have a handicapped parking permit, the fee for a resident parking permit should be waived. Because in that case, you likely are dependent on a car to get places since walking and riding buses and trains would be too physically taxing for you to handle (my grandmother in Pelham Bay is in this position).

Funding transit through a 36-percent fare increase :: Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog July 8, 2009 - 1:23 am

[…] solutions and the measures for which advocates should push, I jumped into the fray Monday with a call for market-rate on-street parking spots. The proposal generated a lot of talk with most in favor to a tiered on-street parking system that […]

A digression on parking rates and spaces :: Second Ave. Sagas September 20, 2011 - 5:01 pm

[…] occasionally returned to the idea of the parking space. Two years ago, I said the city could fund transit by raising on-street parking rates, and I’ve argued in favor of residential parking permits as a way to raise revenue for […]


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