Tuesday, June 30, 2009

My take on the transit park and ride fee

Time to weigh in on the transit 'park 'n ride' fee. So here's the story:

Calgary Transit decided to implement a $3 fee in March '09 to park your car in a transit Park N' Ride lot. This money was expected to raise upwards of $6 million to improve service and lot security. Transit users were outraged and the city eventually compromised by eliminating the fee on evenings and weekends. The logic behind that was nobody in their right mind would pay a $3 fee on top of the $5 (return) transit price to go downtown where off-hour parking rates plummet to $2 or $4 flat rate in many cases. The city complained that this compromise would lose them $1.5 million. There was also a move afoot to maybe reduce the fee to $1 to appease transit riders. That move evaporated. Meanwhile, riders have opted to park in nearby neighbourhoods or in mall parking lots if possible to avoid the fee, which would add $60 per month to use transit on a daily basis to go to work. Transit also offers a monthly parking pass for $60, but "does not guarantee a parking stall if a lot is full." Helpful.

First of all, what the city doesn't get is this - consumers are all fee'd out. There's a user fee for everything now and it has a weighty psychological effect on people. There are situations when fees are tolerated and this usually has to do with visible improvements in service or value. A case in point is the airport improvement fee. Rather than ask airlines to pay extra to use the airport, the airport charged actual airport users to help finance the expansion. Expectations are also that said fee would disappear once the improvements are paid for.

But in the case of transit parking fees, the fee was invented (apparently) to increase revenue, with no visible improvement in service or value. One day the lots are free, the next it costs $3 to use them. What I don't understand is how other major cities in Canada can charge similar amounts for transit fares, give better service (my opinion only), yet not charge for parking and still get the job done. Another thing I don't get is how the city expects ridership on C-Trains to improve if by 9am on a workday, there are no parking spots left. So if transit isn't making enough money with their existing ridership, maybe they should look inward and figure out why. Interesting ridership fact: Calgary's C-Train has more daily riders than Toronto's subway.

Calgary fare: $2.50 Length of train system: 48.8km
Vancouver fare: $2.50 to $5.00 depending on # of zones. Length of train system: 49.5km
Edmonton fare: $2.50 Length of train system: 15.2km
Toronto fare: $2.75 Length of train system: 68.3km
Ottawa fare: $3.00
Montreal fare: $2.75 Length of train system: 65.3km

Now, if transit had built massive parking structures to accommodate a huge increase in ridership, guaranteeing a parking spot no matter when you arrive, a temporary $3 fee to help finance the structures might have gone over much better.

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