Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Free Parking at the Library Could Cost about one Staff FTE

Let's talk a little about free parking at the library, since is a small issue in our campaign season.

One of the candidates for Mayor says:
visitor parking at the city library ought to be free. We should put community literacy above parking meter income. Free library parking is a service the city should provide to honor its citizens.
How about a sidewalk so you don't have to push a stroller
through the driveway?  Other road users have more urgent needs.
"Free parking" sounds like a great idea, but our parking garages are expensive infrastructure and entail significant costs.

Free parking at the Library could also drain the general fund and take away from other important needs.

Free parking is also a move that encourages more driving rather than less.

As a total proportion of the budget, free parking at the Library's not probably that big a deal, though it's far from free - but as a sign of our commitments, it would be a move in the wrong direction.

Is Free Parking an Equity Issue?

But first, what really is the relationship between literacy and free parking? Is there one?

Low-income people aren't driving much, at least in Portland
(via BikePortland)
Maybe someone else will know a more specific answer, know whether it has been studied here (or how to get Salem census data out of the CTPP - it baffled!), but one thing is certain: Cars are expensive.

The one piece of data at hand - if you know of better Salem data, chime in! - suggests there's a myth that charging for parking hurts low-income people. The data rather suggests that owning and operating a car is already too expensive, and that if you are driving, you have likely already met an income threshold.

AAA: Your Driving Costs 2015
If "free parking at the library" is an equity issue, providing better services to lower-income people by charging for parking by those who can afford it could better meet an equity test. Providing lesser services to lower-income people by subsidizing free parking likely fails the test.

But the idea that we should especially subsidize driving for poor people is pervasive. On a discussion of the Salem River Crossing's proposed funding one person says:
Tolling is idiotic in this case. Collection, especially if you differentiate the toll based on ability to pay, will be expensive and a nightmare to collect and enforce.
And another echoes this:
tolling is a hugely unfair tax on the people least able to pay.
There is a sense that fees on automobile use and road use are regressive.

But in fact we have a significant transfer from the cost of housing to the cost of car ownership and driving. Remember that we have funded most of our recent road work by a $100 million bond funded by taxes on your home and property. Renters and customers pay this, too. More generally, the more local you get, the less the gas tax and user fees fund.

User fees leave big funding gap; cost shifting
to home-owners and renters
From an equity perspective, subsidizing better transit would likely have a better return than subsidizing autoism by free parking (or free tolls). What is regressive is our system of compulsory autoism. See that chart above? AAA estimates an average year of car use costs nearly $10,000. Even a crappy clunker is expensive! Free parking at the Library doesn't help much with the total costs. I know the City and Cherriots are two distinct entities, but from a policy standpoint it makes more sense to subsidize transit than to subsidize free parking.

It could also make more sense to subsidize the building of apartments. More people living downtown, where it is easy to walk places, is what we really need. Alas, it is easier to advocate a policy of free housing for cars, than to advocate for free or lower-cost housing for people. 

If free parking at the library is not an equity issue, then isn't it just another autoist subsidy, a perk that "honors" the already literate and, relatively speaking, affluent demographic that uses the library most? (Is there data on the income levels of library users in Salem? That seems like it would be relevant here!*)

Free Parking could Cost about one FTE

Parking revenue from 2014-15 Adopted Budget (book 1)
I couldn't find the revenue from the Library parking structure broken out, so here's a swag. The permit fees from the Library garage are about $80,000 a year. The meter revenue is in total about $550,000 a year, but it comes from 7 different places around downtown.

Splitting it equally, let's call the annual meter revenue at the Library $75,000 a year.

I don't know exactly what are the salary + benefits package, but let's say in round terms that is one entry-level librarian FTE. (That's close enough, anyway, for an order of magnitude swag.)

So if we decide we want free parking at the library, we have to cut costs elsewhere equivalent to about one entry-level staff person at the Library. (There's no claim here that this cut would necessarily happen at the Library itself, but it would have to happen somewhere.)

Vast Parking Supply and Deferred Maintenance

More generally, consider how much land and how many other resources we devote to subsidizing parking.

Look at all that!
Downtown Surface Parking Lots in Red
Parking Garages in Solid Brick Red
On-street parking stalls not included
click to enlarge (1 mb total, 1874 x 1114 px)
We have so much parking that it ought to be an easy call to reduce the total supply of subsidized or underpriced parking so that we have a properly functioning market of supply and demand.

There's a clear market failure there.

The fact that we are overbuilt also makes for a revenue and maintenance problem.

The Capital Improvements Plan for 2016-2020 was at Council last Monday, and our current arrangements have no provision for funding capital projects on the garages outside the District, the Pringle, City Hall, and Library parkades. They're limping along with deferred maintenance needs. The City says "funding is needed to prevent further deterioration..."

Parking Summary from 2016 CIP
Free parking at the library will only exacerbate the problem of deferred maintenance on the Library's parking structure.

If you think we should make it easier to reach and use the Library, if you think we should make it easier to visit downtown, if you think we should also preserve and maintain the correct level of existing services and infrastructure - if you agree with these, "free parking at the Library" almost certainly is not the best way to accomplish or support these goals.

We need to shift our frame so that we are talking about people. How do people get to the Library? How do people visit downtown?

Right now, it's true that most are using cars and making drive-alone trips. But this is not universally true, and as a matter of policy for downtown we want to have more people and fewer car trips. We won't be able to think critically about cars until we can see them as but one choice of many, one tool in the total transportation toolbox. Right now we hammer nearly every screw and nail. It would be nice to have screwdrivers, too.

Addendum and Postscript

* Of course Jim would know of some at least partially helpful data! This is from a Pew Charitable Trusts survey in 2013. It's national data, and not exactly broken down into the categories that would be most useful here, but it's better than nothing.

Visits by income buckets
Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2013

These "access" buckets are still autoist, though!
A better breakdown would be:
walk, bike, bus, drive, and how far do you go?
Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2013
Jim takes issue with what he reads as "your statement about the 'affluent demographic' that uses the library most."

Since this post was unclear and even confusing at that point, here's a clarification:

The claim here is about the subset of those driving
Free parking at the library would only benefit the subset of library users who drive. This subset is "relatively" affluent compared to the subset of library users who cannot afford a car. There is also reason to believe that the number of low-income visitors who make a car trip to the Library is very small - look at the thin blue and green section on the stacked bar graph above. Free parking would not benefit the large number of low-income users who do not drive to the library.

Since Jim did not also contest the claim that free parking would cost about one FTE, then it seems like that's a good swag.

Update, May 15th

There's a draft budget out now, and it confirms the ballparkness of the estimate (p. 52 of book 1).


Jim Scheppke said...

"If free parking at the library is not an equity issue, then isn't it just another autoist subsidy, a perk that "honors" the already literate and, relatively speaking, affluent demographic that uses the library most? (Is there data on the income levels of library users in Salem? That seems like it would be relevant here!)"

How do you know who uses the library most? You don't. You admit as much. So I hope you will retract your statement about the "affluent demographic" that uses the library most. There was a Pew Research study in 2013 that showed that people from all income levels use the library to about the same extent. So 44% of people with incomes less than $30K used the library in the past 12 months and 48% of people with incomes over $150K used the library in the past 12 months. In all income groups use ranged from 44-56%, but since there are a lot more people at the lower end of the scale, it is safe to say that lower income people use libraries the most. I'm sure that is true in Salem too. See: (By the way, what other local government service is actively used by around 50% of the population? It certainly speaks to the value of libraries — now more than ever.)

aterp1 said...

I love this statement,

"It could also make more sense to subsidize the building of apartments. More people living downtown, where it is easy to walk places, is what we really need. Alas, it is easier to advocate a policy of free housing for cars, than to advocate for free or lower-cost housing for people."

It's sad but true. Still, It appears that we will see the prevailing sentiment shift from automobile subsidy to housing subsidy in the very near future.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

thanks for the info, Jim! Updated with it and added a clarification.

Jim Scheppke said...

The other issue that everyone needs to think about here is that most cities Salem's size have 3-4 branch libraries out in the neighborhoods to make it easier to walk, bike and bus to the library. The Multnomah County Library in Portland has 19 library outlets (main library and 18 branches). There is one within about a mile or two of most people — walking/biking distance. Salem only has one branch in West Salem. There are neighborhoods in Salem that are 7-8 miles from a library. If we had more branch libraries parking at the main library would be less of an issue.

PS. I think a good compromise would be to keep the meters but to devote all of the income to buying books for the library. The public library in Corvallis does this and people willingly plug the meters when they know the money buys more books. Some people may even give them an extra quarter or two!

Unknown said...

When I served on the SLAB (Salem Library Advisory Board), the City Council, for no good reason that I can see, tossed the question of library parking meters into our laps and asked us to make a proposal. (The only time they ever asked the advisory board for advice, SFAIK).

They wanted to raise the rates, but not much. I asked why the library meters were any less costly than any other city meter. This was met with gasps, as if I had suggested book burnings.

Jim S. Has the real answer -- we need a strong network of community libraries, with the greatest libraries in the least-advantaged neighborhoods; we've got it exactly backwards now. Since the current library is a death trap in the big quake, we should not screw around any longer -- the entire city complex should be closed until it is hardened for a design basis quake of 9.25 or more (5 minutes of rock and roll at 30 fps acceleration), TODAY.

If you won't do that today, you really don't think the police and library are threatened -- you're just using the threat to solicit money for your big police palace project.

(If you claim that the police must not be endangered and need a new building, then why don't they need the building NOW -- you have no idea when the Big One is coming, so saying it's OK to wait through a couple rounds of bond failures is nonsense.)

Take over empty storefronts all over Salem -- put a library into the dead Bank building at Chemeketa and Liberty, put one at each end of Lancaster, put one on Portland Road, put one down South on Commercial, and put one where the strip club was, where the Bridgasaurus Boondogglus will never be built.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

I agree with Jim that we should have more library branches. I think that the library under the City's control has not done well. I should be separated off as a regional service.

About 20 years ago...oh my gosh how time flies!....Larry Epping offered the City of Salem a plot of land on Lancaster Drive across from McKay High School for a library. He even said that he would help with a fundraiser to get donations to build the library branch. The neighbors were excited and I was ready to roll up my sleeves to help.

But the City turned down the offer, saying that they would not be able to staff it to full use.

Such shortsightedness and self-fulfilling prophecies are common for the City.

Now we have no library services for a lot of the low income families. It is not about parking that keeps them from the Library. Some of it is about transportation in that it is too long for the trip for a working family to go downtown.

Thankfully, to address the issue Catholic Community Services and Mano a Mano with other agencies have created a series of "Little Libraries" and they also have put together small lending libraries at La Casita and La Placita family centers. For several years Marion County collected books (about 30,000 a year) to distribute to poor families. This kind of effort continues through CaPES in East Salem. I think that the satellite Boys and Girls Clubs at Hoover and Swegle also try to provide access to computers for poor children.

Poor families in parts of Salem have cars only for work. They do not use them for much other than work and shopping. Some families share their cars. Many children do not own bicycles either, so walking is all that is available.

Too many people live in a bubble and have no clue about what is real life for a lot of Salem residents.

BTW, I do not accept the AAA estimation of what it costs to own a car. It may be an average, but it is totally unrealistic for what most people in Salem pay. You cannot say that it costs $10,000 to own a car when a large percentage of people who own cars don't even make $10,000 a year!

Unknown said...

That's true that the AAA estimate is a national figure that includes BMWs and Cadillacs along with the 1997 Ford Explorers my clients are stuck with. Because the poor end up driving the dregs, and that's "cheaper" only if you don't look at it as a percentage of earnings.

Indeed, there is NOTHING that keeps the poor poor better than a city that makes it impossible to function without a car. Because, you're right, they don't pay $10,000/yr for their ride. They pay much more than that as a share of their income -- they buy a crappy car at a buy-here pay-here dealer who rips them off, and then they are trapped at the mercy of car repairs. Many low income people in Oregon are one police stop away from collapse, because they drive without insurance, which is wildly expensive for the poor. When they have an unexpected repair bill -- which happens all the time with crap cars -- they have to makeshift to get to work, and THERE IS NO TRANSIT for poor people, few of whom have M-F commuter hours.

Anonymous said...

Though it doesn't change anything in this discussion, here are the three latest Pew reports:

It doesn't appear that any of them discuss transportation, however.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks for the additional Pew links!

Also updated with figures from the City's draft 2016-2017 budget that show an average FTE at a little over $100K. So the SWAG seemed in the right ballpark for an entry-level position.