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Free Parking Is a Terrible Investment for Transit Agencies

11:51 AM PST on January 15, 2016

Is pouring millions into fancy parking garages like this the best thing for transit in the Twin Cities? Image:
Instead of charging for spaces when its park-and-ride facility reached capacity, the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority will spend $6.6 million on a garage and give those spaces away for free too. Image: MVTA
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Does it make sense for cash-strapped transit agencies to spend millions of dollars on park-and-ride facilities and then give those parking spaces away for free?

The Minnesota Valley Transit Authority, which operates in the Minneapolis suburbs, is going to spend $6.6 million to build a 330-car garage at its Apple Valley Transit Station. Matt Steele at Streets.mn ran the numbers, and what he found was pretty illuminating:

At $6.6 million for 330 spaces, we’re spending a clean $20,000 per space. That’s about average for structured parking. If we amortize that “investment” over 30 years, we’re spending $667 per year per space. At ~255 non-holiday weekdays a year (since that’s the only time these additional spaces will be “needed”) that’s $2.61 per space per day of use. That’s more than the difference between the express fare paid by Route 477 riders and the local fare paid by walk-up transit users elsewhere in the system ($0.75 * 2 trips = $1.50/day).

And, remember, that $6.6 million doesn’t benefit all riders at AVTS, it only benefits net new riders. At a generous assumption of 1.5 riders per vehicle, we still have less than 500 new riders a day at AVTS. And those are riders that may otherwise drive to other park & rides such as Kenrick Avenue in Lakeville, or another Red Line station in Apple Valley or Lakeville.

I’m quite familiar with AVTS and its parking “problems.” Growing up in the south metro, AVTS was my station of choice when I lived at home during summers in college and commuted to internships in Downtown Minneapolis. Apple Valley was historically upset that us Lakeville residents would drive to AVTS and take “their” spots, while Lakeville wasn’t in the Transit Taxing District. Fair complaint, but it would be better solved through proper pricing of car storage.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Greater Greater Washington reports that officials at the National Institutes of Health have changed their minds after claiming last year the agency wouldn't be able to attract good scientists without more parking at its Bethesda campus -- now they've decided not to build any additional parking. Another one from GGW explains how two Washington lawmakers are trying to secure more federal dollars for bike-share systems. And Greater City Providence shows pictures of the seven homes Brown University is planning to tear down and replace with a parking lot.

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