Nicholas Janusch has a Master’s of Arts in Economics and is the co-author of the working paper ““A Laboratory Investigation of a Congestion Externality: Commuter Parking and Responsive Pricing.”  He is a Orangevale resident and works in downtown Sacramento.

Commuters who park and use Sacramento Regional Transit light rail near the Interstate 80 split will begin paying for parking on Jan. 1.  The Pay-Park-And-Ride pilot program will force commuters to pay for parking when before they never paid such costs directly.

In addition to their recently increased transit fares, commuters can either pay one dollar per day or purchase a $15 monthly pass.  Sacramento Regional Transit says that they may implement this program to other light rail stations but choose these three stations because no immediate adjacent areas are available for people to park and avoid the parking fees.

The Regional Transit Board of Directors needs to immediately delay the Pay-Park-And-Ride pilot program until other alternative revenue generating measures are investigated.  The intended program is unfair to riders who rely on those stations and it will have unintended consequences reducing the amount of expected revenue.  Alternative revenue generating policies may be more equitable and/or more effective in generating revenue to reduce the agency’s deficit.

The program targets one geographical group of light-rail commuters and unnecessarily increases the cost to them while the entire Sacramento Regional Transit System will share the revenue. 

The increase in parking cost will not provide any visible benefits for the effected commuters.  Moreover, the increase in administrative and maintenance costs of the program will reduce any of the expected gains from the program.  However, if the parking lots were experiencing congestion or could ensure security of commuters of better security of their vehicles, then the program’s proposal would be justified.  The pamphlet describing the program did not state any reason for such charge, but one can assume it to be a revenue generating measure.  One can wonder if all alternative means of generating revenue for Sacramento Regional Transit yet been examined.

There has been insufficient transparency and communication with the public regarding this new measure. For example, the San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency have released studies with stated goals and objectives along with public outreach to notify residents of their upcoming SFpark program beginning in 2010; which will increase city parking fees and extend parking meter hours. 

Yet there has been no study or report released detailing the benefits or objectives of the Pay-Park-And-Ride program; only a Web site with vague answers to frequently asked questions and pamphlets left on passengers’ cars at these stations describe how to pay and what the citation processes will entail. 

If examined, The Pay-Park-And-Ride pilot program will show to contradict the Sacramento City Council’s Smart Growth objectives outlined in the September 2006 Central City Parking Master Plan. 

The Pay-Park-And-Ride pilot program needlessly discourages transit use for those stations, increases car ridership and congestion, and results in unfairness distribution of incidence among other light rail riders. 

The parking lots proposed for this program already have excess capacity during commutes so an increase in the price of parking serves no parking management purpose.  Riders who utilize these stations may react by parking and riding at other stations that do not have a parking fee, or find an alternative travel mode to work (i.e. carpooling, using other transit services, or driving all the way to work).  If the program is extended to other stations, many riders may dodge the fee by utilizing parking available on nearby streets, businesses, or shopping centers. 

The Sacramento City Council and Regional Transit Board of Directors should consider other revenue generating ideas that are more consistent with their stated goal of Smart Growth are more equitable to Sacramento commuters.  An ideal policy may be increasing downtown parking fees and/or extending parking meter hours, then using the revenue generated for public transit.  Such a policy will obviously be unpopular among downtown parkers, yet it would be more consistent with Smart Growth policies, encourage the use of public transportation and reduce downtown parking congestion. 

Ultimately, Sacramento Regional Transit and Sacramento City Parking Services should integrate and share revenue streams.  Another policy of revenue generating measure to substitute the Pay-Park-And-Ride program would be to temporarily increase monthly SacRT passes.  Although this will not be consistent with Smart Growth goals, the pain from such a price increase would be shared by all SacRT passengers who use the monthly passes and would be a more fair solution than a policy that discriminates against a group of passengers based on geography.  The city of Sacramento should also consider better policing of commuters that abuse handicap placards and/or consider revising on-street handicap parking policies. 

As such, Sacramento Regional Transit should delay the Pay-Park-And-Ride program until other generating measures are investigated.  Such an investigation would yield an explanation to why the Pay-Park-And-Ride program was chosen over all other options.

Nicholas Janusch can be reached at Janusch has a Master’s of Arts in Economics and is the co-author of the working paper “A Laboratory Investigation of a Congestion Externality: Commuter Parking and Responsive Pricing.”  He is a Orangevale resident and works in downtown Sacramento.