This weekend, I read an interesting guest post at Human Transit, discussing a project to reform the pricing and regulation of street parking in Auckland’s city center, and as articles about what’s going on in the rest of the world often do, it gave me a familiar feeling: that of watching other cities do smarter things than Seattle. Briefly, the outcome of Auckland’s reform is as follows: all street parking time limits are abolished; all parking is charged in one of three simple (color coded) price brackets, based on demand; all parking is free for the first 15 minutes.
Contrast this with Seattle’s city center (say from Denny to Jackson, waterfront to Boren), where in addition to five different meter rates, there are time limits from two to ten hours, and differing policies on evening parking; but, most of this doesn’t apply on Sunday, when parking is free everywhere and has no time limits (except on the waterfront). This is before we get into the different types of loading zone (30 minute commercial/non-commercial, 15 minute charter/shuttle bus, three minute passenger load, one minute (!) passenger load to name a few) or any of the myriad other ways the city tries to slice up the curb.
More after the jump.
I’ve lived in the city center since moving to Seattle, and the reality, in my observation, is that virtually no-one cares about these fine gradations of what is or is not permitted, and instead operates under a de facto Auckland-style regime wherein any active loading or quick dash into an adjacent business is hoped to be permitted (and free) in any place where stopping is not completely forbidden by menacing red signs or paint, and stays beyond the posted length are dealt with by periodically feeding the meter. People seldom care about the meter rate, as the prospect of trying to find another spot outweighs the desire to (perhaps) save a few bucks.
I think there’s a more general idea here for transit and parking reformers, namely that most people shun (or ignore) complexity and will pay (or risk paying) a lot to avoid dealing with it. It’s worth making your system a little less efficient if you can make it simple to understand.
Here’s an example from Metro’s network of how that applies to transit. Consider well designed routes like the 120 and 358: while they may have many flaws, they each go to one place, they do it the same way every time, all day, every day, and if you want to go somewhere near Delridge or Aurora, they will get you there as best Metro can do the job. But Metro still has entirely too much well-intentioned rubbish like this, for Route 49:
As most STB readers will know, and virtually nobody else will know or care, the Broadway segment is an in-service deadhead to or from base (signed “INTL DIST via BROADWAY”). Somewhat similarly, the stops on Jackson and 3rd are served only in the evenings and Sundays when the 7 is through-routed with the 49. The stop on 1st is served only when the 7 is not through-routed with the 49.
Whatever minimal benefits serving the Broadway and 1st stops may provide to a small number of riders, and the money the Broadway service saves Metro (versus keeping the bus in service on its normal alignment) is outweighed by forcing all potential riders to process an intimidating amount of almost-useless and seemingly-capricious complexity. (The part-time 7-49 through-route is a more challenging dilemma, as that through-route saves Metro a significant amount of money).
In the case of street parking, the price of excess complexity is mostly just frustration and occasional parking tickets; drivers can “opt out” by paying to park in private lots. In the case of transit, the agency suffers the far more corrosive effect of creating in new or occasional riders the impression that its services are complex to use, and that buses will sometimes do odd things like keep going on Broadway and start heading towards the I.D. rather than turning to go downtown; these riders, too, might just opt out — of using transit.