A Tale of Two City Councils: Park and Ride Fees

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In theory, the most efficient method to get to work and school.

Well boys and girls, let me tell you a story. The City of Calgary, a place full of cowboy hats, wranglers and on clear days a beautiful view of the mountains also had a fairly successful public transit system. Thousands of people would take both the LRT and busses to get them to their shopping, jobs or schools. The system was not fool proof or weather proof, but it wasn’t horrible.

You know what happened next boys and girls? The Calgary City Council decided that it would be a good idea to charge LRT passengers a $3 daily fee to park their cars in the LRT parking lots. This fee was to be in effect 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Why would they do this? The council decided that this was the only way to ensure the safety of the vehicles and passengers, the only way to pay for the increased security that was needed.

The city of Edmonton is a similar city. There are still wranglers and some cowboy hats, but definitely more liberal and artsy fartsy people and no mountain view whether the sky is cloudy or not. A park and ride fee was suggested to the Edmonton City council, but for some reason, this council saw the extra fee as unnecessary or just a bad idea overall.

So, the city of Calgary decided to charge LRT riders, who tend to be lower income than people who drive to work or school everyday, another fee.

Picture if you will a couple. They each take the train to and from work, but because they work slightly different hours due to children or other commitments, they each drive to the LRT. Each person buys a monthly transit pass for $85 (2010 monthly transit fee) for a total of $170 per month. The couple feels that this a still a good bargain as parking downtown starts at approximately $200 for a parking pass and of course parking gets much more expensive from there.

Now the park and ride fee has been instituted. If the couple each continue to park at the lots, the cost is approximately $60 a month per car. If they both drive that’s $120 plus the $170, for a total of $290. For that cost jump, the couple is likely to consider changing their working hours so that they can both drive downtown. If they drive, they don’t have to squeeze in with people who have questionable hygiene standards, they are not being coughed on, they get to sit and listen to music and have conversations together.  Even if the couple looked at taking one car to the LRT station, they are still looking at $230 a month, which will still likely lead the couple to make the choice to drive downtown.

Let’s take a moment to consider why a city might place funding into its public transit systems. The first one is likely to ease traffic congestion on the roads due to single occupancy commuters, a second might be the environmental impact of taking vehicles off of the road, and a third reason might be to help people get to their work or school in the most economical way possible. Why many people may not even have a vehicle and the train may be their main transportation means.

OK, like I said, the city of Calgary instituted the $3/day park and ride fee. The machines were unreliable, their cell phone call system didn’t always work and people would get tickets despite having paid their $3 fee yet the city said these were growing pains and that things would work out eventually. Councillors would bring this subject up time and time again, but it was decided that the fee would stand. After all, it cost a lot of money to bring in the machines the collect payment and the cars that would drive around the city taking pictures of license plates and digitally handing out tickets.

The people of Calgary changed their transit behaviours. Many people stopped taking public transit because it was no longer the most economical means for getting around. The City of Calgary denied that there was a significant drop, but people who take the LRT every day knew and saw that there was indeed a change happening. Some continued to drive to LRT stations, but started parking blocks away in residential neighborhoods, in mall parking lots and anywhere else that they could park for free. This just inconvenienced people who were trying to park near their homes, or customers trying to get into shops.

All the while, the city of Edmonton continued on, forgetting about the park and ride fee suggestions as if nothing had changed. A white knight rode into the City of Calgary one fateful Monday night in November. A new mayor and many new city aldermen were voted in, many promising to do away with the park and ride fees. So now, the people of Calgary wait and see if the promises made will be kept. Will people take advantage of shared ride programs and public transit again, or have they become too accustomed and comfortable with driving downtown? No one knows right now, and can only hope that people have not completely soured on the city’s public transit system.

Why have I shared with you this story? Well you see boys and girls, I think that people should applaud the City of Edmonton for recognizing that adding more fees to taking public transit was not the best option. Edmonton has likely saved money when you look at the costs that the City of Calgary has incurred, only to see them go to waste.

Also, public transit may not be the most glamorous way to get around your city, but I hope that you will consider it, even from time to time. It’s good for your car, it’s good for the environment, and it’s good for your pocketbook.

7 Responses to “A Tale of Two City Councils: Park and Ride Fees”

  1. Lisa
    December 20, 2010 at 3:58 pm #

    Great post but I’m afraid Edmonton isn’t quite as nice as you make out: ETS is starting monthly paid park and ride January 1, 2011. For $42 a month, people can pay to have reserved spots in the lots next to four of the stations. Reserved stalls are in effect 6am-5pm and wont occupy the entire lot. Paid customers are guaranteed parking, but not a particular stall. It’s a slippery slope… http://www.edmonton.ca/transportation/ets/ets-paid-park-and-ride.aspx

    • Lisa McRitchie
      December 20, 2010 at 9:32 pm #

      Calgary has had rows of guaranteed parking for years. My issue is charging absolutely everyone to park. If a few people want to pay the $80 (that’s what it was here) that’s fine to me so long as its not everyone.

  2. Will
    December 20, 2010 at 4:28 pm #

    You have no idea what you are talking about. In Edmonton there is almost no Park and Ride except on the extreme outskirts. Most people drive their cars downtown because there is no parking at the LRT. People in Edmonton would like to pay $3/day for the option of riding the LRT. You should get your facts straight before writing B.S.

    • Lisa McRitchie
      December 21, 2010 at 8:01 am #

      Excellent! I am very excited to see that there is someone else who is passionate about this subject. In Calgary the LRT stations closer to downtown have very little parking, or no parking just like you find in Edmonton. The majority of parking didn’t come into effect until the more “modern” extensions to the track in both cities. Currently in Calgary many people drive further out either south or north to get to lots that have parking. Also, many people are driving into the city from towns, cities and farms outside of the city. Neither city seemed to have anticipated the needs they would have in their near to distant future. Don’ even get me started on how intelligent it was to put the LRT underground in Edmonton’s downtown vs the street level in Calgary.

      Its all well and good to say that everyone would be for or against a daily park and ride fee when it might be a small vocal group that might say something one way or another. Look at what happens here, most people only want to comment if they feel very strongly.

      The point is still that either city should not drive up the cost of taking public transit to the point where it is cheaper to drive into the downtown core. Also, the city of Calgary brought in the fee before adding more feeder busses. In my neighbourhood it is a 30-40 minute walk to the train station and the busses would run every 20mins at peak times, on a good day. These busses were already filled beyond capacity making this a very inconvenient option. I was merely trying to applaud the city of Edmonton for listening to its constituents and not wasting a lot of money on a program that would never last.

      • Adam Snider
        December 21, 2010 at 10:34 am #

        Don’ even get me started on how intelligent it was to put the LRT underground in Edmonton’s downtown vs the street level in Calgary.

        Except that there will be street-level track in Edmonton’s downtown core in the not-too-distant future.

        • Lisa McRitchie
          December 21, 2010 at 12:38 pm #

          My understanding was that the proposed street level route along 102nd ave was still in the discussion and debate stage. bet the cheaper (ground level) will prevail, but in the meantime I can keep saying how great I think it is to seperate trains and automobiles. LRTs hitting firetrucks during rush hour causes major delays.

  3. Bob
    December 21, 2010 at 7:34 am #

    Calgary Parking Authority runs most of the parking in downtown Calgary. CPA is owned by the City. The city wants to fill the parking downtown with rates as high as possible to fund public transit as much as possible.

    Most of Edmonton parking is run by Vancouver based ImPark.