Some new ideas from Rob Rich about mainland parking. Let’s hope that the new advisory committee, once formed, will take on the challenge of examining such ideas thoroughly and work effectively and respectfully with islanders and county officials alike to come up with long-term solutions to issues like this.From RobI am writing on behalf of myself and not PLIC, an organization I used to work with and still full-heartedly support. I also generally supported, and support, the Whatcom County Ferry Task Force’s recommendations.However, I would like to question some of the assumptions in the Task Force’s parking section – assumptions that I agreed with then. The question at the time was whether or not the ferry system could generate additional revenue, in the short-term, by charging for parking. The Task Force’s answer was (I paraphrase): ‘No, the metering equipment costs too much and people can simply drive on for just a bit more money.’ The Task Force did generally excellent analysis and its probable that before dismissing paid parking they used the most conservative set of assumptions they thought possible (high revenues, low costs). I think, however, that they, and many others, were asking the wrong question. In hindsight better questions might have been: Can we implement paid parking in a way that is fair and provides our community, in the long-term, with flexibility in how we get on the ferry? Are the fixed and variable costs of metering worth it – are they good investments?
We need to consider the best way to organize access to parking now that the county is reducing the number of spaces at Gooseberry. Pricing parking is a way to organize access – not a perfect way but arguably better than first-come, first-serve. Ferry users currently pay for the costs of ferry parking – non-parkers subsidize parkers and don’t get a choice in the matter. The ‘queuing alternatives’ report the county has commissioned will probably include some discussion of parking – islanders should be part of this process and keep several options on the table.
My concerns with the Task Force parking section: First, it was implicitly assumed that purchases of parking metering equipment should be completely paid for by parking revenue. Having adequate parking space is essential to a car ferry system. This can be under-appreciated when ferry lines are short (and its not drydock) but if traffic significantly increases we will miss having an adequate parking lot. Parking meters exist not just to generate revenue but to ensure that there is space available for people who really need to park in a pinch (eg – they need to be on the next ferry and the line is long). Also, the existence of parking fees would encourage some people to drive on and pay the higher amount- which increases fare revenue. Given this some ‘cross-subsidy’ of metering equipment by fare revenue is appropriate, particularly if metering helps prevent parking congestion.
Second, the Task Force numbers assumed that future parking rates will always be less than the difference between the current pedestrian and car fare. To start, the fare levels can change. Ferry traffic may increase – tourism demand is highly variable depending on the economy. There are non-financial time costs to consider – people may pay a bit more to park if there is a line and they want to get on the boat sooner. There also will always be peak periods, like the summer and drydock, where special parking rates could be applied.
Third, the Task Force report only discussed paying for parking on the mainland side. People use the island lot so it is possible some people might pay to use it, particularly if there are monthly passes and reservable spots. There may also be some equipment discounts or economies of scale in operating two paid parking lots compared to just one.
The Task Force report does not address security at Gooseberry in a systematic way (and I don’t fault them for that) but it is an important topic. Having parking at Gooseberry incentivizes people to put themselves in more removed places at night and presents targets for theft. There has been at least one assault. Security costs were the main costs associated with the parking lots and they may, in fact, have been excessive. Yet soon we will lack a fenced area, and possibly nighttime security personnel, yet free parking remains. Apparently the new lots will be stretched out along the road, requiring the kind of long walks we see during drydock. Is that a situation islanders are comfortable with?
We should not miss an opportunity to discuss and design a good ferry parking system before the loss of the lot and while there are no major parking shortages – prevention is better than dealing with a problem after the fact.