Two Paradigms for Transit Parking

Last month I had the chance to sit in on a brown bag session about the new bike parking facility under construction at the Sunset Transit Center.

Currently, the main way to get secure bike parking at a transit center is to rent a locker for a monthly fee. This has never worked for me, because my bike/transit use is not on a daily basis, but rather on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Reserving a locker would be economically inefficient and would also leave that valuable locker vacant and unusable for other folks.

So I was excited that the new facility will use a card-lock system (you pay for what you use) and will also use a form of dynamic pricing: you’ll pay about 3 cents per hour during the day, but only a penny per hour overnight (both seem pretty cheap).

In part, this supports the idea of ‘station bikes’, bikes stored at the work end of your commute trip and used to travel the final distance to your day-time destination. I was surprised to learn that TriMet believes that about 15% of paid bike storage at transit centers is in fact for station bikes. The phenomenon is common in Europe, but I did not realize it had become this popular here.

Dynamic pricing also allows for the possibility that if the new facility is regularly overflowing, TriMet could increase the prices to manage demand (and maybe fund more capacity).

But what struck me is the contrast with auto parking at Sunset. While TriMet is charging for bike parking and to some degree using pricing to ration capacity, auto parking is rationed on a different basis: it’s free, and goes to the folks willing to show up earliest in the morning. We’re rationing it on a convenience basis.

It seems slightly insane that we charge for parking for the mode that contributes to health and the environment and subsidize the parking for the polluting mode. But I understand why it happens. The Federal TSUB criteria require TriMet to project sufficient ridership to justify funding, and that means increasing the ridership capture area by making it easy to park.

What’s a better way we could construct policy around this?

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8 responses to “Two Paradigms for Transit Parking”

  1. What’s a better way we could construct policy around this?
    If we have a comprehensive multi-modal system which includes quality buses (not TriMet 1400s/1700s) that provide timely connections at usable frequencies, we wouldn’t have to worry about having so much parking at transit centers. People could see the local bus service as an enhancement to the rail service, which would mean a higher overall perceived value.

  2. Well, at least the policy stands out a bit in contrast to the myth that bicycle riders never pay for anything…

  3. I would hope there is still free bike parking in addition to the lockers. If not, that is something that should be changed.

    Assuming the lockers are a premium service in addition to free bike parking, the parallel to auto parking is not quite direct. And, as you note, you are paying for the privilege of secure storage for days at a time. Can you permanently store an automobile at a park and ride for free? I don’t think so.

    The obvious parallel would be to assign some of the auto parking spaces to reserved parking for which people pay. Of course, that would mean some spaces go unused when the renter isn’t there while turning away other riders when the free spaces were filled.

    It might pencil out to actually pay for an additional parking structure entirely with parking fees, but I doubt it. I suspect that avoiding paying for downtown parking is a major motivation for a lot of park and ride users. If the choice is paying at the park and ride and paying downtown, they will pay downtown.

    Providing a few paid reserved spaces at suburban park and rides that local businesses could rent for their employees to use might be a worth considering. But I don’t think there is really a market for a larger paid option.

  4. “Well, at least the policy stands out a bit in contrast to the myth that bicycle riders never pay for anything…”

    What this shows is the extent to which motorists don’t pay for anything other than their own vehicle and gas. Which is no different than pedestrians and bicyclists. The real myth is that the gas tax somehow covers the public costs of driving an automobile.

  5. Is TriMet making a profit, or planning to, from the bike lockers? My understanding of TriMet’s motivations for providing parking for any sort of vehicle is that it makes TriMet’s transit services more convenient for users of those services. If TriMet just wanted to make profits on every services it offers, then it would make sense to charge for auto parking as well as bike parking. But I don’t think that is TriMet’s goal.

    For each vehicular mode, it makes sense for TriMet to offer what it has the resources to offer. Cars are self-contained units, they just need a lot of space. Given that space is limited, how do you maximize usage of whatever space is available? Does the number of people currently not utilizing the parking because the lot is full exceed the number of people who wouldn’t use it if TriMet charged for parking? If so, then it would make sense to charge a parking fee; if not, it wouldn’t.

    Bikes, on the other hand, are more flexible, but also not as self-contained. Many people worry about their bikes being stolen, many people don’t want their bikes to degrade by sitting out in the elements many hours per day, or overnight. Those people benefit from, and are probably willing to pay for, bike lockers. If the lockers are a hit and demand exceeds capacity, then TriMet should make more space for them. If not, it won’t. The people who don’t perceive a value to the service can continue to lock their bikes where they do now, for free.

    It all seems fairly logical to me, not “slightly insane.” You’re thinking of car parking as subsidized and bike lockers as unsubsidized. From TriMet’s POV, they are both services provided to attract ridership. As such, it makes sense to design those services to appeal to users of each mode, taking into account the strengths and weaknesses inherent in each mode and how those things will affect demand for the services.

  6. The answer is to buy one of those fold up bikes and take it with you on the train.

    No fees and no theft.

    So you don’t get 150 speeds, big deal.

  7. They ought to pay bicylists to use the transit mode
    which uses less road capacity , pollutes much less , and makes commuting easier for those who insist
    on using a 10 x 20 3000lb box to move their lazy ass around. Maybe a warm donut in each locker….

  8. Chris,

    There is an important distinction to make here. The minimal charge (one to three cents an hour) for Bike & Ride does not generate revenue for TriMet, but discourages people from using the facility as their personal garage or storage unit for bikes they rarely use. Bike parking operators have seen this keep the space from being used by commuters. Though Bike & Ride uses dynamic pricing, the intent is similar to charging towing and impound fees to discourage long-term car parking.

    This is different than using pricing to allocate limited space. This is done for short-term car parking at Sunset TC, where TriMet meters a small number of spaces to create turnover so commuters can find a place to park if free parking is full.

    Thank you for posting this discussion. I hope my comments explain the practical reasons for using dynamic pricing for Bike & Ride.

    Colin Maher

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