Parking pickle

Town Council members spoke as one voice at Monday night’s meeting to make sure Chapel Hill taxpayers who want to park won’t be taken for a ride.

UNC will start charging employees for its park-and-ride lots come August, forcing Chapel Hill to keep pace. After all, if commuters have a choice between a $2-a-day lot and a free one, of course they’ll fill up the free one first. And because non-UNC employees don’t have the option of using a UNC lot even if they pay for the space, non-UNC commuters would be at a disadvantage, parking-wise.

The town operates four park-and-ride lots – Eubanks Road, Southern Village, Jones Ferry Road and Carrboro Plaza – accommodating a total of 1,238 spaces. (An additional hitch: The Carrboro Plaza spaces are leased from private owners who said they would not renew the town’s lease if the town charges for parking. Town staff have enlisted the help of Carrboro’s board of aldermen to resolve the conflict.)

Triangle Transit Authority buses also use the lots to pick up and drop off passengers commuting to Raleigh and Durham. Ed Harrison, who serves on the TTA board of trustees as well as the Transportation Advisory Committee and the Public Transit Committee, noted that the TTA was concerned that requiring its customers to pay for parking in the lots would discourage ridership. A robust discussion of who should pay for parking commenced.

If the town does not charge for parking, non-UNC commuters are punished. If the town does charge for parking, those who make the commitment to use mass transit are penalized. Cost-conscious commuters, already bearing the inconvenience of arranging their lives around bus schedules, would pay for both a bus ticket and a parking pass. Asking Chapel Hill residents who ride the TTA to leave their cars at home and take a town bus to the lot to catch a TTA bus would leach even more discretionary time from their lives. Should TTA customers and Chapel Hill taxpayers receive free parking passes? Mass transit riders save money on gas and potentially more expensive parking in their destination towns of Raleigh or Durham; should Chapel Hill taxpayers subsidize them?

All roads of logic led back to the fact that the TTA seemed to be the one entity getting a free ride. Interim transit director Brian Litchfield, who led the presentation, agreed to ask the TTA to make a contribution to the cost of operating the park-and-ride lots.

Council will take up the matter again at its next business meeting, April 10.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. Bonnie Hauser

     /  March 27, 2013

    wait a minute? TTA? isn’t that t our money? TTA is not a taxing authority – they are funded by local sales and vehicle taxes.

    I suppose this is one way that CHT can get a piece of the regional transit pie. Wouldn’t a direct discussion between the towns and the county be more productive? Imagine if the towns and county joined forces, instead of giving TTA millions of local dollars for LRT studies.

  2. Many

     /  March 27, 2013

    I thought the Park & Rides were designed to reduce commuter traffic in town, on campus and at the hospital.

    Certainly UNC can’t be expecting to gain much in the way of revenue and their facilities are already inadequate for the volume, The towns are going to have to react, leaving the poor sods trying to find a space and local merchants in the middle. It seems to me this plan has not been well thought out.

    Might be a good time for an entrepreneur to start a towing company though.

  3. Nancy

     /  March 27, 2013

    UNC has to pay the town, and charging for its park-and-ride lots is a way for it to generate funds to pay its bill. I believe the town will invest $128,000 in pay stations, camera security, etc., and have another $69,000 in operating costs. UNC will chip in $150,000. I don’t know how many spaces the UNC lots have, so I don’t know how much revenue its lots will generate.

  4. Bonnie Hauser

     /  March 28, 2013

    what is the hesitance to charge for bus service? I realize free busses is a local sacred cows- but if its a good bus system, people should be willing to pay a small fare or for the park n rides. It wont cover all of the costs – but it would help.

    I know UNC charges its students for busses- but what about their employees? Durham charges for their busses – and many employers buy bus passes for their employees. Seems like a reasonable approach.

    So is the plan to charge for park n rides so we can continue to tell ourselves that we have a free bus system?

  5. George C

     /  March 28, 2013

    The bus system went fare-free when the UNC students voted to raise their activity fee in order to do so. This eliminated the need for them to have to worry about passes, etc. The advantage for the Town was (is) that UNC covered about 58% of the costs, CH about 35% and Carrboro about 7%. There was a cost savings to the Town because money boxes on the buses had to be removed and emptied each night and totaled up and sometimes repaired. It also saved time in getting people onto the buses if they could just step on without having to dig out a pass or money.

    In addition, the Town was able to contribute to the overall costs by applying for state & federal grants that helped to subsidize the system. The fact that those monies are drying up is part of the reason that the revenues for supporting the system have been decreasing. Interestingly, as we cut routes because of decreased revenues we lose state & federal funding which are based on ridership numbers. So it seems like we are creating a self-sustaining downward spiral.

    I suspect that the University’s desire to charge for parking at their P & R lots is due, in part, to decreased overall funding from the State. There are no easy answers to this one. What we’re seeing is obviously a response, albeit somewhat delayed, to the recession and decreased support at the state and federal levels.

  6. Bonnie Hauser

     /  March 28, 2013

    so why not add bus fares? Fare boxes are passe’. Today its smart cards – bought at the station or elsewhere.

    Do you know the usage data? UNC pays 58% – but what is UNCs % of ridership (including employees).

  7. George C

     /  March 28, 2013

    Last figure I saw (several years ago) UNC’s share of ridership was about 88%. But I don’t think that survey identified how many of those affiliated with UNC were also residents of either CH or Carrboro.

    The trouble with Smart Cards is what to do about visitors or folks who ride infrequently. You’ve have to set up a sales & distribution system which might not be cost effective for the number of riders who might fit into that category. It still might be a possibility though if that is the only way to keep services at reasonable levels.

  8. Many

     /  March 28, 2013

    Six UNC Park & Ride lots provide 2,258 spaces, Only 3 lots are truly busy. On campus there are ~14,500 permit spaces.

    Now….how many P&R passes will UNC sell? 🙂 What is the cost of adding the facilities necessary to make the six lots pay per use?

    What if UNC just gave Chapel Hill the money for the number of permits they sold beyond the 2,258, or better yet a fee for every time the UNC lots were full?

    This whole thing still does not seem to be well thought out. 🙁 I wonder how many that could take a free bus have on campus spaces?

  9. Bonnie Hauser

     /  March 28, 2013

    I suspect there’s many ways around the smart cards for visitors – assuming they will want to use the buses. The big question is why are chapel hill taxpayers funding transportation that primarily serves UNC students and employees.

    That’s not a question for me – its one the council should discuss with UNC and their taxpayers. With the ridership numbers, you can start a meaningful data-driven discussion.