Want To Ease Traffic Woes? Get Rid of Free Parking

Public and private leaders in Austin are asking you, me, and everyone who commutes in the city to think about changing the way we travel. Screen shot 2014-08-18 at 1.00.05 PM

Commissioner Bruce Todd says “Congestion is a problem that we all own, and we can contribute to the solution individually. Government leaders can support funding for road and transit infrastructure (with a price tag in the billions), but that alone will not solve the problem. Every person who drives alone in their car each day must ask themselves a fundamental question, ‘Can I travel differently?’”

Austin City Manager Marc Ott says “Your efforts and daily transportation choices matter too. This week, try something new – join a carpool, invite someone to share a ride, run an errand by bicycle, try out the new MetroRapid service, walk to lunch. Join us in being part of the transportation solution.”

And the Austin Chamber’s 2013 Mobility Report is making sure Chamber members understand the time we all spend traveling will get much longer if we don’t reduce single occupant vehicle travel, the technical term for people driving alone.

But really, how can anyone expect actual changes in your deeply entrenched habits when the big incentives still reward driving? Recent research spotlights how incentives work, and has examined how benefits like free parking, transit passes, shower/change areas and bike parking impact your travel behavior. Guess what…

Free car parking tends to be associated with more driving to work, public transportation benefits tend to be associated with riding public transportation, and trip-end facilities at work such as showers/lockers and bike parking tend to support walking or cycling.

But when free parking is available, the effectiveness of all other incentives is significantly diminished.

Donald Shoup has said “by driving down the price of parking this heavily, we’re giving everyone lots of incentive to rely on cars as often as possible, packing them in to crowded city areas and making it harder for everyone to drive and park.”

So, with overwhelming evidence for the high cost of free parking, why is anyone providing free parking – at least in our urban areas where parking is already in high demand?

When you started driving to work downtown, driving may have been your only or best choice. It certainly was a lot cheaper with free parking. Now, driving is a habit, and free parking is supporting that habit, even as traffic hassles and fuel costs have increased.

Giving up a benefit worth up to $140 a month may be too much to ask of many employees. The only fair way to encourage employees to use options and help our region deal with the high costs of parking is to level the playing field for everyone: either stop providing free parking altogether or start paying employees the rough equivalent of the parking benefit if they give it up.

Everyone coming downtown will benefit if those who are able to using travel options, and the driving alone/parking of cars is left to those who have no other viable options.


image via bizjournals.com

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