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 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|
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|
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
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
Free Parking could Cost about one FTE
|Parking revenue from 2014-15 Adopted Budget (book 1)|
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)
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|
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
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|
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).