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July 09, 2002
Parking Perks Undermine Mass Transit
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e than any other factor, free and low-cost parking at work gives tens of thousands of people a financial incentive to drive rather than use mass transit, according to transportation experts interviewed by the Washington Post.

They note that the comparative attractions of the bus, subway, or carpool tend to fade if the expense of parking isn't an issue.

The Post notes that the federal government itself offers cut-rate or free parking in D.C., while private companies do the same, on grounds that parking perks are key to attracting and keeping good employees.

"If you're giving someone $200 a month [worth of free parking], talk about an incentive to drive your car," said Dan Tangherlini, acting director of the D.C. Department of Transportation. "It'd be a very difficult thing to take away. There's a tremendous connection between people and their parking spaces."

"It's pretty apparent," said Bill Menczer, head of the commuter choice program for the Federal Transit Administration. "If you pay someone to drive to work by giving them free parking, they'll drive to work."

Subsidized or free parking has its greatest cost on the road, transit officials and environmental groups tell the Washington Post. In many cases, parking perks make driving cheaper, or not much more expensive, than transit.

The U.S. Census found that the number of residents driving alone to work increased by a quarter-million during the 1990s while carpooling, transit commuting and walking to work dropped.

Transportation planners and politicians have recognized the pitfalls of prevalent parking for years, but they are loath to take it away, the Post notes. Few things rile up employees like messing with their parking.

No U.S. president has touched the issue since Jimmy Carter abolished free and subsidized parking for federal workers as part of his energy conservation plan in 1979. It sparked a two-year battle, during which infuriated government workers picketed the White House and the largest federal employee union filed a suit. The battle ended only after President Ronald Reagan restored the free parking, two days after the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in Carter's favor.


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