Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Increasing Parking Fees Wrong Way to Promote Mass Transit

Fair Lawn New Jersey is busy considering changing the fare structure for the parking lots serving the Radburn train station. I'm able to walk to the station, so the changes don't affect me, but we're talking about the third busiest train station on the Main/Bergen line behind Ridgewood and Hoboken. The parking lots are constantly full, and the need is for more parking, not to increase parking costs for those who rely on the convenience of traveling into Manhattan in relative comfort in under an hour (my own commute door-to-door is just under an hour and includes two short walks and a transfer to PATH).

Here's what the proposed changes will bring:
Instead of the annual $55 parking pass for residents and $188 for non-residents, the council voted to implement a strictly daily fee of $1 for residents and $2 for non-residents plus a 35 cent transaction fee near the start of 2014.

A third-party IT Company will monitor the transactions, creating access from a computer or Smartphone.

Mayor John Cosgrove said the council reexamined the issue in 2013 because at roughly 29 cents a day for residents and 78 cents for non-residents, Fair Lawn's parking fees far outweighed those in surrounding communities.

Glenn Rock residents pay $145 for an annual parking pass or $1 per day. Ridgewood locals can spend $650 annually or 25 cents per hour.

"It was almost to the point where (Fair Lawn) taxpayers were subsidizing parking," Cosgrove said.

Nevertheless, fliers posted by uneasy residents have emerged around town, reading "Stop the Proposed 2014 Changes to Radburn Parking."

Users of the parking area argued that assuming a 240-day work year, the proposed fees will increase for residents by 344 percent and only 155 percent for non-residents.

"Why should the resident rate go up so much more than the non-Fair Lawn resident rate?', the sign read, also questioning the additional hassle considering there will be no added spaces or guaranteed spots.
Like other towns along the Main/Bergen line (and indeed other NJ Transit-rail served towns) Fair Lawn already prohibits on-street parking near the station and makes it difficult to get parking near the stations. These towns should be encouraging mass transit use, since it takes more cars off the arterial roads and highways and would promote more local business as people are able to walk from the business districts around the train stations.

It seems that the plan to raise fares benefits no one but the IT company that will be developing and managing the parking lot. It wont increase the availability of parking spots, and may actually force some people to reconsider driving over taking mass transit since the costs will go up significantly.

For a person who previously paid $55 a year for parking at the station, they'll now pay $240 a year - an average of $20 a month or $480 if the person wasn't a Fair Lawn resident.

I used to commute from Ridgewood, and the closest parking lots were tag logs for residents. Nonresidents commuting to Manhattan for a typical 8-hour day would have to put in $2.50 a day. That adds up to $50 a month or $650 a year.

This also doesn't take into account that people prefer Fair Lawn because of the easy commute to Manhattan and this makes the town more desirable to live in because of the affordability (Glen Rock and Ridgewood transit costs are significantly higher per month as each is a zone higher than Radburn).

Fair Lawn should be looking at ways of expanding transit options, not increasing transit costs for commuters.

But this also comes at a time when the federal government has yet to renew mass transit commuting benefits. Congress increased the amount that can be deducted pre-tax for parking lots to $250 a month, but cut the commuter benefit from $240 to $120 a month. Despite the fact that mass transit has far more capacity to move people than overcrowded highways and reduces the strain on bridges and tunnels, the commuter benefit was cut because it's primarily viewed as a benefit to a few people living in big cities and urban areas like the New York metro area.

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