In the last post I pointed to a set of data out of the City of Portland showing that in a 12-year period when the city added four new rail transit lines, including the globally marketed Portland Streetcar, the percentage of Portland residents who take transit to work (called transit’s “journey-to-work mode share”) seems not to have changed at all.
Commenter Pantheon dug into Canadian statistics and found that in the period 1996-2006, when Portland’s transit journey-to-work mode share was idling in the 12-15% range, Canadian cities posted these gains:
Ottawa up 2.2% to 19.4%
Montreal up 1.2% to 21.4%
Calgary up 3% to 15.6%
Vancouver up 2.2% to 16.5%
To be fair, these aren’t that much higher than Portland’s 12-15%, but it would be nice to think that Portland would show better outcomes than Calgary.
I suspect Portland’s lack of headway on mode shift reflects subsidies for parking, rather than any failing of transit investment or urban land use policies.
Colliers study of international parking rates found Portland ranked near cheapest in the U.S. – at just $9/day. This is comparable with Louisville, KY – a city which is half as dense.
Investment in transit is likely to be futile in an environment of subsidised parking. Removing minimum parking requirements and applying a parking levy would be a good start.
Parking is one of the major costs associated with a private vehicle based transport system, yet many cities around the world persist with ill-considered regulations which force developers to provide excessive amounts of parking.
Instead of futile debates on the merits of BRT versus LRT, we would be better off advocating for parking reforms, especially abandoning minimum parking requirements, as a way of achieving better transport outcomes.
So I went and looked at parking costs in Portland’s downtown. Stuart’s right. At the 10th & Yamhill garage, which is right on two rail lines and a streetcar line, and just a few blocks from the very center of downtown, you can still park all day for $10. The highest SmartPark rate anywhere in Portland is $15/day at 1st & Jefferson. Meanwhile, in Calgary, a day’s parking can cost up to C$22 (US$21.28) in the City Centre and Convention Centre parking structures.
Stuart goes on:
In other recent work we’ve been doing, we’ve repeatedly seen that parking price is the most powerful locally-controlled lever for shifting people out of single-occupant cars, in the absence of more direct congestion charges. Increases in parking costs drive big shifts to transit or other options.
During the heady early years of Portland’s urban revolution, in the 1970s-80s, Portland had a cap on the supply of parking downtown. Short-term parking was always available, but all-day parking was supposed to get expensive, so that commuters would have a motive to use the transit system or other sustainable modes. The cap was lifted in the 1990s, and if 10th & Yamhill is any indication, it looks like there has been no price pressure since then; the price today isn’t much higher than it was when my office was near there 15 years ago.
Since 10th & Yamhill is a city-operated garage, the city may be subsidizing parking (by charging a below-market price) in conflict with its own sustainable transport goals. If that’s true, it wouldn’t be unusual. In fact, most cities subsidize parking more than they would like to, but politically it’s very hard for a city to let parking costs rise to a true market rate.
Cities that have no control over their parking supply, ironically, may have an advantage on this crucial sustainability-driver, because their private providers can let all-day rates rise to the true market level (also causing transit ridership to rise) and the city government can rightly claim that there’s nothing they can do about it. It’s just that beautiful free market, doing it’s thing.