Free Parking 'Drives' Solo Commuting, Study Says

California Watch, a project of the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting, evaluated the 2009-11 American Community Survey and determined that CA's 'drive-alone' rate to work was 73%. Joanna Lin points the finger at free parking as chief cause.

To be sure, California Watch did not rate reasons for solo commuting - Lin only explores the 'free parking' explanation by interviewing UCLA Professor Don Shoup. Clearly a major reason would be the time benefit as well - as in all California counties, solo commuting was quicker than carpooling or public transit. Lin doesn't include data for walking or biking. Commute modes and times for all 58 California counties are included in the study. Guess which county had the lowest drive-alone rate?

"Californians who refrain from driving to work alone typically have longer commutes. On average, solo drivers spent 25 1/2 minutes getting to work, the census survey showed. Carpoolers took just over half an hour to get to their jobs, and public transit riders commuted nearly 47 minutes to work."

Shoup points to free parking at work.

"One explanation for persistently high rates of solo drivers, said Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at UCLA, is free parking."

"If you can park free at work, it's an invitation to drive to work alone. And almost everybody who does drive to work has this invitation," he said.

"A study Shoup conducted 15 years ago for the state Air Resources Board found that employers who offered cash-out programs saw solo driving to work drop by 17 percent, carpooling increase by 64 percent, walking and biking grow by 33 percent, and transit ridership jump by 50 percent.

The cash-out program, however, is not well known and not widely used, Shoup said.

San Francisco residents were the least likely in the state to commute by driving alone, with 37.5 percent who did. One in 5 reported having no vehicles available to them, a much higher rate than the statewide average of 3.6 percent.

By contrast, in Los Angeles County, the 7.2 percent of residents who rode public transit to work commuted an average of nearly 48 minutes (compared to San Francisco's 37.3 minutes). Driving alone to work took Los Angeles residents an average of 27.4 minutes."

In the California Watch article on the survey, Lin notes that "Californians' commuting habits have not changed much in recent years. They drive, carpool and ride public transit at about the same rates they reported in the 2006-8 American Community Survey, and their journeys to work are about the same duration."

Thanks to Len Conly

Full Story: Free work parking drives solo driver rate



Enough Already - Planning should not complicate our lives

I for one an getting pretty sick and tired of Professor Shoup's misguided crusade against free parking. It's symptomatic of planning that seeks to complicate our lives instead of simply them -- and one of the many reasons the public really doesn't trust planners or planning (despite APA's questionable survey claiming otherwise -- it's amazing how you phrase a question can bias the response). Of course a much higher percentage of the population drives to work in Los Angeles than in San Franscisco. L.A. is a sprawling metropolis poorly served by mass transit. Frisco is a much more compact city that has a superb public transit system that links it to Oakland. And of course people prefer the shortest commute possible. We've seen it in our work too -- commuting via public transit almost always takes longer than driving (there are exceptions in metro areas that rail transit serves well. The bottom line is that one size does not fit all. What works in one metro area will not necessarily work in another one. As planners we cannot allow ourselves to blindly follow the leader. We need careful, thoughtful analysis -- which is the only way to lead to effective solutions.

Daniel Lauber, AICP
AICP President 2003-2005, 1992-1994
APA President 1985-1986

free parking drives solo commuting

Some handy quotes:

From the Findings and Declarations of the stalled bill SB518 (California Senator Lowenthal's parking bill), "Eliminating subsidies for parking has enormous potential to reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas and other vehicle emissions by reducing vehicle miles traveled. If drivers must pay the true cost of parking, it will affect their choices on whether or not to drive. In the short term, changes to parking policy can reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions more than all other strategies combined, and they are usually the most cost-effective."

Bay Area MTC: "There is no question that the provision of free parking is a huge incentive for people to drive to work. A 2000 survey of Bay Area commuters found that while 77 percent of commuters drove alone when free parking was available, only 39 percent drove alone when they had to pay to park. Additionally, among commuters with free parking, only 4.8 percent commuted by transit. By contrast, among commuters without free parking, 42 percent commute by transit."

From the set of US employers with free workplace parking, there are two virtuous outliers: Google Mountain View at 52% SOV and Microsoft Redmond at 62% SOV. Both Google and Microsoft spend much more on commuting benefits than can be expected from marginally profitable firms. Traditional free-parked corporate commute trip reduction programs are comprised only of incentives without a driving price increase for SOV. These programs are disappointingly ineffective, often yielding only 1% commute shift.

Free Bay Area suburban office parking paid for by employers and provided freely to employees represents a perverse $7.58 per day incentive for SOV commuting: employers pay for valuable parking space land that they give away to SOV commuters – transit commuters receive no such free land.

California is phasing in a modest GHG cap and trade policy with an initial CO2 price of about $12 per ton. For this market, a narrow set of carbon reductions are tradable (sequestering in trees, etc), but not including driving reduction. To reduce CO2 from solo commuting, a more ambitious carbon market is required, with $200/ton price and wider applicability to all petroleum emissions.

From past CA commute reduction regulation, ridesharing/carpooling gains mode share where transit options are few.

Steve Raney, Cities21, Palo Alto, CA

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