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

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.

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 10.05.57 AM
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.