But not the kind of paper they use to print bus passes.
Do you guys remember a couple months ago when the City Council was talking about how they could bring in some extra revenue by limiting the amount of City employees who got free parking in City garages and renting those spaces out to the public instead? Except that the list was like, really not very limited (see the list here) and it turned out that all that free employee parking is costing the City like $400,000 a year?
So when this came to the Council, District 2 Councilmember Pat Kernighan asked for the free parking issue to return to Committee, and that she would like staff to address more of the revenue implications of all the free parking, say what the monthly charge at the garages are, and explain whether there are any employees who have free parking guaranteed by their collective bargaining agreement. Also, they were going to look into the option of providing some sort of transit pass for City employees. Which makes sense, right? After all, we have terrible budget problems. And we have been officially a “transit first” City since 1996. So giving employees transit passes instead of free parking spaces that cost the City money makes a lot of sense and would seem to be consistent with adopted City of Oakland policy. Right?
Well, maybe not. Perhaps that logic exists only in my head. The free parking issue returns to Committee on Tuesday. The new report (PDF) offers none of the revenue related information requested — not even a passing reference to the $400,000 in forgone revenue that was stated at the previous committee meeting. Instead, it talks about a marketing campaign the Parking Division is going to start to advertise the newly freed up parking spaces on the upper floors of the Clay Street garage.
As for the transit alternative, well, it’s hard to imagine how that idea could have been taken less seriously. From the report (PDF):
In February, City employees with parking privileges were asked if they would be interested in receiving a free public transit pass in lieu of free parking benefits. Of the 154 who responded to a survey, 8 indicated interest and 146 did not. The most frequently cited reason for not using public transit was that employee worked late hours, need their vehicle during the day to perform site visits and other City work, make side trips before and after work such as day care, or that public transit was not convenient to their place of residence.
While current interest among City employees seems to be low, staff nevertheless explored the option of establishing a transit pass program in the City, at the request of the City Council. Staff identified three transit options provided by other adjacent municipalities. Oakland already has in place one of the three programs and may offer additional options if there is sufficient interest.
- AC Transit Easy Pass program. Under this program, the City can purchase AC Traqnsit passes at a discounted rate. AC Transit requires that a minimum of 100 employees participate in order to implement the program. The discount increases as the volume of passes purchased increase. For 100 to 500 employees participating in the program, the City would pay between $77 and $115 per year per pass. If the City purchase 100 passes at $115, the annual cost to the City would be $11,5000.
- Employee transportation accounts. Some municipalities crease transit accounts into which a specific dollar amount is deposited that employees can use to pay for transportation alternatives, such as BART tickets, van pool, bus passes, bicycle commuting or paid parking. The City of Berkeley, for example, deposits $20 each month into an account that employees can use towards the transportation option the employee chooses.
- Commuter Benefit Program. Allows an employee the opportunity to set aside pre-taxed dollars that are specifically designated for utilizing mass transit. The City of Oakland already has this program available for its employees.
What’s that, you say? You asked 150 people if they would rather have free parking or a bus pass, and most of them didn’t say a bus pass? No way. I’m shocked.
Oh, except I’m not at all. It doesn’t take a Masters Degree in Transportation Planning to figure out that if you make driving cheaper and easier than other forms of transportation, people will choose to drive instead of taking the bus.
There is simply no excuse for the amount of free parking the City gives away, especially in light of the devastating cuts to basic services they’ve been making for two years, and will continue to make. If they want to reserve parking spaces for certain employees, and those employees want to pay for a reserved space, that’s fine.
The report also completely misses the entire point of an EasyPass program, which is that you give the passes to everybody. Not just people you would otherwise give free parking to. The ridiculous theoretical Easy Pass program described in the report essentially comes down to buying bus passes for the City Council and their staff, plus Department heads. What a joke. A Citywide EasyPass program for employees would likely cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $300,000 a year. Which, for the math challenged, is $100,000 less than the cost of giving away all this parking.
If cost is still an issue, there are ways to reduce the financial impact of the program. For example, instead of giving all employees the Easy Pass, the City could offer it at cost or half-cost to anyone who wants it. And not offer any free parking. This would result in a slightly higher per-pass price due to a lower number of participants, but I guarantee you that when you go around offering unlimited bus passes to people at $100 per year (versus $80 per month), you’re going to get a lot of takers.
The dismissive attitude towards a simple measure that will encourage transit use among City employees, one that is already in place and unbelievably successful in Berkeley and Alameda, is truly disheartening.
The Council is always claiming they support public transit and want to encourage people to use public transit and that they love transit oriented development and blah blah blah blah blah. But change begins at home. Apparently, in the City of Oakland, “transit first” is really nothing more than a catchy slogan.
The Finance Committee meets at 11 AM (PDF) next Tuesday, April 13th. Contact info for members below:
- District 2 Councilmember Pat Kernighan:
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Phone: (510) 238-7002
- District 3 Councilmember Nancy Nadel:
E-mail: email@example.com, Phone: (510) 238-7003
- District 4 Councilmember Jean Quan:
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Phone: (510) 238-7004
- District 5 Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente:
E-mail: email@example.com, Phone: (510) 238-7005
- 05.04.2010: Free employee parking will be around a little longer
- 01.12.2010: Free parking for City employees. Why?