Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Fossil-Fuel Nation

The company I work for, headquartered in downtown Boise, leases 400 parking spaces for employees at a cost of $60 per space per month. It turns around and rents them to interested employees for $20 a month, "absorbing" the other $40 (per space, per month) into operating expenses.

If my calculator is working, it costs the company $192,000 per year.

Since that affects the bottom line, I've asked (to the point where I've become annoying to some people, unfortunately) why they don't eliminate the subsidy. (They bristle when I refer to it as a subsidy, but it is a subsidy by any definition.)

I suggested, "Why don't you give everybody a $480 annual raise, eliminate the subsidy, and let them use it for parking if they want, or for something else if they prefer?"

My suggestions seem to be dismissed as eccentric, crackpot ramblings. (Which should be expected, since I'm the guy at the bottom of the totem pole.) They point out that the other big employers in the area provide free or discount parking for their employees. But the employers they refer to are not in downtown Boise, and they own the ground their sprawling parking lots are occupying.

I've also suggested that if they'll subsidize SOV parking (at $40/month), they should be willing to pay $32 for a bus pass for those who are responsible enough to ride a bus. Why not? (I assume they've "taken it under advisement." There must be some tax incentive to providing the car spaces, that's not available for subsidizing bus passes. Or maybe it's just a matter of "tradition," or that none of the mucky-mucks ride the bus.)

A side-note: To their credit, they do provide a nice, sheltered bike rack, and some awesome locker room / shower facilities. (Which are mostly used by the people who use the nice fitness center, also provided at a highly-subsidized reduced cost.)

One lady (high-up on the totem pole) gets a faraway look in her eye, and starts effusing about her hometown - Vancouver, BC - about their awesome public transportation, and how so many people live close to their work in apartments, condos, etc., and can walk or ride a bike to work. Then she mutters about how stupid, podunk little Boise doesn't have good buses, and we can't expect poor single moms who can't ride the bus to pay $60 a month for parking, etc.

What she, and the other policy makers, like to ignore is the FACT that the more our policies and attitudes encourage single-occupant vehicle transportation, the more likely people are to choose a lifestyle that's dependent on single-occupant vehicles.

If people paid the actual cost of parking - $60 per month (comparable to other monthly private parking options in downtown Boise) - they might feel incentive look at other options. At least more so than when they only pay $20.

I firmly believe that people will make more responsible transportation decisions if they fully "suffer" from - or benefit from - the unfiltered consequences of those decisions.


Anonymous said...

The bus pass solution is too simple for the higher ups. They probably see it as losing $20 cause they already leased the whole parking lot.

Why don't you try getting incentives for yourself? Your employer could buy $40 gift cards from local bike shops and hand them out instead of parking passes. They could probably negogiate paying $35 for the $40 card.

Anonymous said...

When I worked for the State, I managed the Capitol Mall parking system. We charged $5/month for basic "first-come, first-served" parking, and although the State owns (most of) the lots, it still costs somwhere around $50/month to manage and maintain each space. That's a helluva subsidy, and the price hadn't changed for decades. I'm sure it still hasn't, 5 or so years after my departure.

Jamie said...

Have you ever read Divorce Your Car? One of the ideas put forth in that book is that NO parking anywhere should be free - the price of parking should always fall directly on the car-owner.

Your plan is certainly a good way to go about making them feel that payment and getting them to think about where their money goes - and how it could be better spent.

Keep asking - maybe you'll at least find out the reason that your suggestions aren't being heard and you can figure out another way to go about trying to make a positive change.

wolf21m said...

I believe there is a federal tax credit for a company paying an employees bus pass or commuterride expenses. There is a bill sponsered by the League of American Wheelmen (or whatever they are now called) to provide a tax credit for bicycle related commuting expenses as well. Our own Larry Craig is a supporter! (at least there is one issue on which we agree).