RTD Explores What Would Happen If Drivers Had to Pay to Park at Stations

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Photo: David Sachs

A regressive Colorado law makes it illegal for RTD to charge most drivers for parking at the agency’s stations. Problem is, parking spaces cost a fortune for transit agencies to build — around $20,000 per space in Denver. Giving away that commodity passes the cost on to passengers and leaves a lot of money on the table that could fund things like more frequent bus service or more affordable fares.

RTD commissioned an analysis earlier this year that lays the groundwork for charging for parking someday. In a document [PDF] laying out the scope of work, the agency insists that the study does not necessarily signal a change in parking policy:

Any decision regarding parking charges at RTD facilities would be preceded by an extensive, transparent, inclusive process involving RTD and all of its stakeholders. In that light, this Assessment should not be construed as a tool to determine the merits of parking charges, but rather as an early investigation of technical issues, opportunities, and constraints.

Still, if RTD wants to charge parking fees at some point, the agency should know how much revenue is possible, how ridership might change, and how much a parking program would cost to implement, says RTD’s Brian Welch, the project manager.

“If you chose to charge for parking at a much broader set of our park-and-rides, and you did it on a daily basis, what kind of revenue will likely be accrued from an approach like that and what are some of the issues that will be associated with implementation?” Welch said. “Once you have a technical underpinning, you can then start getting into a more meaningful discussion of the merits of the how and why and where.”

RTD staffers are working with a consultant to explore how other transit agencies have monetized their parking resources, Welch said.

The agency has 77 park-and-rides, 36 of which are free all the time. The other 41 are free (for people who live within the RTD district) for the first 24 hours, cost $2 per day after that, and just $4 for people who live outside the RTD district. If RTD charged drivers just $1.50 per day to park, the agency would raise an extra $8.2 million a year, according to the Colorado Fiscal Institute.

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Image: Colorado Fiscal Institute

The current law has some loopholes that make it possible to charge for parking, but with caveats that minimize RTD’s benefit. Third-party entities, like a private company or the City and County of Denver, can partner with RTD and charge parking fees — as long as RTD doesn’t get the revenue. For example, RTD leased land at Iliff Station to Aurora, which built a parking garage. The city owns the garage and will collect $3 daily parking fees, but RTD won’t see any of that money.

The analysis should be complete sometime in July, Welch said, when RTD staff will present the findings to the board.

  • AlCummings

    The chart is flawed. Under no reasonable analysis would the same number of commuters choose to pay an extra $1.50 per day to park as would pay 50 cents a day. There would have to be some amount of drop-off as people chose to drive to work or take a bus to the park-n-Ride. The chart however assumes that the same 5,482,498 annual daily parkers would choose to pay any amount on the list. I know the CFI study says many drivers would still likely take transit because they “avoid driving” but there is a price to that, and it’s not reasonable to assume no one will stop taking transit if there were a daily parking charge.

    • swtmix

      @disqus_RndkvjO7e2:disqus

      “The chart is flawed.”

      Actually, it probably isn’t. Would some of the people who would park at $0,50 still park at $1.50? Probably not. But would the spaces they use stay empty? Again, probably not. Instead, they would probably be replaced by other people who currently don’t park because “there is never an open space” or by someone new to the area or who’s new job now makes taking transit worthwhile. Odds are, very few of those spaces would stay empty.

      • AlCummings

        That’s not reasonable. Most park-n-ride lots aren’t fully occupied. There’s already available spaces.

        • swtmix

          But there’s a difference between park-n-ride lots and light rail station parking lots. For example, there is a Bus park-n-ride lot at Havana and Alameda that is rarely even half full but most of the light rail station lots I have seen tend to get fairly close to full. And as ridership on light rail grows and when gas prices go up again most of these lots will fill up.

          • AlCummings

            You apparently don’t have faith in the proven economic principle of Inelastic Demand. If people were willing to pay more to park and take light rail, they’d surely be filling the lots now when it’s free. but they’re not. And there are numerous light rail stations where parking is not full. Any station on the West Line, for example. The Lincoln Avenue garage, the University Station garage, and more.

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