When transit affordability and convenience are at odds

Last week, an IJ editorial on pricing ferry parking took a cautious note. “The bridge board needs to maintain a focus on keeping the ferry affordable to all and a convenient and dependable way to get to and from work.” The IJ is concerned that charging for parking will make the ferry unaffordable. But the aim shouldn’t be more affordability; it should be for efficiency. And, the best way to manage a scarce resource efficiently, including ferry parking, is to put a price on it.

It’s a basic principal of economics. Supply can meet demand only when the resource has the right price. Higher prices discourage consumers from using the resource and encourage producers from making more of it. When it comes to a relatively fixed resource (inelastic supply), like parking, the price just regulates demand.

In the real world, a price forces someone to consider whether that resource is actually worth paying for. Is a parking space worth $2? Those who answer no will either get to the ferry another way or take another mode of transportation to the City. This leaves room for others who are willing to pay but who couldn’t find a space before.

Here’s the neat thing. By putting a price on parking, suddenly accessing the resource, while more expensive, is actually more convenient and dependable. Today we have a shortage of spaces, and someone who doesn’t show up by 7:30am is probably not going to get a parking space. If the price is such that, say, 5 percent of parking spaces are free each day, that means there will always be parking available, even in the middle of the day.

The IJ should concern itself not with how cheap we can make a ferry trip but how efficiently we can manage the ferry’s infrastructure. Thankfully, GGT is concerned about this. So rather than spend tens of millions to boost the parking supply, GGT wants to regulate it with a fee. People can still get to the ferry for free if they want to, with a shuttle, foot, or bike, but there is room to spare there. If GGT wants to operate with efficiency, this is where people need to go.


About David Edmondson
A native Marinite working in Washington, DC, I am fascinated by how one might apply smart-growth and urbanist thinking to the low-density towns of my home.

4 Responses to When transit affordability and convenience are at odds

  1. Valerie Taylor says:

    Nice article, Dave. I would add that present plans call for a east-west shuttle only, while ~50% of ferryriders come from the north. I hope they will work with Marin Transit to implement a north-south shuttle from Rowland Plaza in Novato to the ferry, with limited stops at park and rides, including shopping centers, and the San Rafael TC. I’m not positive, but I think by using Clipper, the shuttles will (or could) be free to ferry riders.
    Other interesting design elements could be:
    – charging on exit based on time parked. So if people want to park overnight or over a weekend, fine, just charge them more.
    – different charges based on SOV and HOV, or for close-in spaces. This might require different exit lanes or something.
    – increase charges on Game Days so that families arriving for mid-day ferries have a prayer of being able to park there.
    – along the lines of “parking lot as asset”, rent a large part of that vast lot out on weekends to a flea market, when it’s otherwise virtually empty.

    • On weekends, it should be public parking. The Marin Country Mart lot is totally full on weekends. If Larkspur and GGT don’t want to do a permanent parking district, at least GGT could allow MCM customers to park here.

      But I love the idea of a flea and farmer’s market, too. Hell, just Market. Figure out how much space is needed for ferry parking, how much would be used by MCM shoppers, and use the rest for market stalls and food trucks of whatever people want to sell. Advertise in San Francisco and tourist books, and you’d probably get at least a few folks heading north to see it.

  2. Franz Listen says:

    The Marin IJ Editorial staff do not understand the concept of latent demand and don’t get that (if the lot is priced correctly) ferry ridership levels can be maintained while new revenue is generated.

    Also, on the issue of affordability, the IJ makes no distinction between the ferry service itself and the parking service, which are currently being bundled. Why should the transit service (ferry) receive a 50% subsidy, while the parking lot receives a 100% subsidy ? – especially given the opportunity cost of keeping valuable land in the form of parking. It costs real money to light, maintain and patrol that parking lot.

    Lastly, I can’t believe that the IJ cited surveys results of current riders about parking charges as a caution against charging. The surveys don’t include potential ferry parkers who are currently shut out but who would be willing to pay to park. They don’t include beneficiaries of whatever these revenues will be spent on (whether shuttles, new lots, or just staving off fare increases). And lastly, they don’t include taxpayers who subsidize this service. In short, they only included people who had something to lose from this new policy change, not the many people who have something to gain.

    This was an especially lazy piece.

  3. Pingback: When transit affordability and convenience are at odds « Vibrant Bay Area

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