Free/Subsidized Parking and Transit Subsidies

Interesting article at Citylab on parking and transit subsidies in the US. It’s definitely a good study in human behaviour. Apparently, the “fairness” of  transit subsidies that match parking subsidies given to employees does not really pan out.

UBC West Parkade (image from

Congress recently reestablished parity for commuter tax benefits, granting people who take transit into work as well as those who drive in and park at the office the same $255 a month in 2016. With that basic fairness intact, the question becomes whether or not the rule will change rush-hour travel choices in any substantive way. Given the bump in transit benefits, you might reasonably expect fewer employees to drive in alone, but the evidence suggests you’d be wrong.

In other words, people with free parking will still drive to work even though there is a significant transit subsidy. Why? Well, free parking is a subsidy of its own that encourages employees to drive to work without facing any financial consequences.

old paper U-Passes (Vancity Buzz image)

Only when free parking is taken away and when there is a transit incentive thrown in, does the transportation mode shift dramatically to alternative modes. Vancouver’s own U-Pass may be a good example of how transit subsidy with paid parking can shift transportation mode shares. Before the U-Pass, buses to SFU and UBC were busy, but not bursting at the seams. Once the U-Pass came into being, those buses were really filled to the brim and service had to be immensely increased.

Some people are still willing, or need to due to circumstances, to drive and to pay for parking. Some find creative ways of parking on free roads along bus routes going to the universities. But definitely paid parking plus transit subsidy makes a huge impact.

A lot of workplaces provide free parking for their employees. Now imagine if every employee in the city had to pay for parking at their workplace. It would be what Thomas Beyer would like to see. That would turn transportation in this city on its head. The end of free parking for employees would also save companies a lot of money and provide parking for customers instead.

Companies could also free themselves from the headache of running a “fair” parking system for employees that everyone feels entitled to. Now that could be a blog post of its own and I just don’t want to even go there.

Additional reading:

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