Want People to Take Public Transportation to Work? Don’t Provide Free Parking
Encouraging people to take alternative modes of transportation is an ongoing question. In a culture where cars dominate, how do we provide incentives that make buses, subways, trains and even cycling and walking more attractive than commuting on two wheels?
One option is to provide transit passes, the idea being that if a bus or subway pass is free for a worker than they will be more likely to take public transportation. Or will they? It depends on what kinds of benefits the employee gets. A new study shows that employers who offered both free parking and free transit passes actually saw an increase in the people that would drive to work.
The researchers analyzed data from the Washington D.C. area. According to City Lab, “when employers offer no commuter benefits at all, the probability of driving alone to work is nearly 76 percent, with taking transit at 22 percent.”
While you might assume that parking and transit might cancel each other out if people can freely choose between the two, they don’t. When employees were offered free parking and free transit passes, the probability of driving to work rose to 83 percent. What if people are discouraged from driving? “When a company offers only transit benefits and nothing else, probability of taking the bus or train breaks 76 percent, and driving becomes less appealing,” reports City Lab.
So let’s just get rid of free parking, right? It’s not that easy. The problem lies in the idea of fairness. If some people drive, some people take the bus and some people ride their bikes, the fair option is to of course provide parking, transit passes and bike storage. There are very few places that offer transit-only incentives, and particularly in regards to companies that have people coming in from long distances to work, cars may be one of the only options.
What’s the solution then? One might be not providing any benefits at all.
As the authors of the study write, “benefits for public transportation, walking, and cycling, seem to work best when car parking is not free.” That’s because unfortunately the perks of free parking win out over the benefits of public transportation, at least in the commuter’s mind.
Studies like this are important in addressing the question of public transportation, showing that we have to do much more than simply just incentivize public transit. We really do have to make driving less appealing. Otherwise we will continue in the exact same to-wheeled cycle, with no progress in sight.
Photo Credit: shankar s.