Photo by Zach

For the first time since 1976, today the City of Tacoma begins charging for parking in the downtown core.  The city will charge an introductory rate of 75¢/hour with a 2-hour maximum, a fee significantly lower than either Seattle ($2.50) or Portland ($1.60). In addition, today the city introduces a 90-minute buffer zone adjacent to the paid parking area in which parking will remain free but will for the first time be subject to time limitations.

Rates will be effective 8a-6p Monday through Saturday, with Sundays and designated holidays free, and Tacoma will use the same coin/card meters used by the City of Seattle.  Sources at the City of Tacoma admit that the 75¢ rate will not cover administrative costs, making it likely that rates will rise once drivers have adapted to the new scenario and the city analyzes ongoing parking availability.

The change is expected to to increase parking availability in the core, markedly increase parking demand at Tacoma Dome Station (which for now will remain free parking), and boost ridership on Tacoma Link.

28 Replies to “Downtown Tacoma Paid Parking Begins Today”

  1. “markedly increase parking demand at Tacoma Dome Station”

    I hear it fills up every weekday with commuters all ready.

    1. I go through there everyday, and yes it’s quite busy, but there are usually spaces available on the uppermost levels.

    2. Isn’t Sound Transit looking at charging for parking? I think it is long overdue, especially with the foreseeable budget shortfalls.

    3. You centralize demand with transit from people who want to avoid parking fees at a destination.

      Then when you have them captive, you start charging them parking at the transit station.

      Please, tell me why this business model is any different from the average drug dealer’s?

  2. I love rapid transit and am all for using it. But it’s a crock that by charging me money to park I’ll be more apt to take it to the “downtown core”. And the rates ARE going up. If you want people to ride transit to “improve parking availability” then improve your transit to the point those who don’t ride it want to and will. I have a feeling the parking situation will not improve and the city of Tacoma will be left with paying for parking. (I don’t know why I commented, I don’t even live here)

    1. The problem is that the city is already spending uncountable dollars subsidizing on-street parking, making it a better alternative than taking public transit. In effect, the situation you describe is already happening, but in reverse, where the attractiveness of driving is artificially improved.

    2. James, “improving availability” in this case doesn’t mean adding spaces, it means increased rotation through the same number of spaces. Tacoma will still have free parking 3 blocks up the hill and lots more a short Link ride away. I really think Tacoma is doing this less for revenue and more to increase transit’s commute share (making it harder for employees to hog street spaces) while simultaneously making it easier for the occasional visitor to drive in and find a space quickly. They’re shooting for a 14% (1 in 7) constant vacancy rate, and their plan is to adjust the fees to meet that supply. As for improving transit, service to Tacoma Dome station is really quite good. Combine reliable peak commuter rail, regional express buses arriving frequently all day, free parking at TDS, and a free and frequent streetcar, and I think not driving to downtown Tacoma starts to look pretty good. Even if Pierce Transit’s ballot measure fails and service is reduced, Sound Transit and Intercity Transit’s service levels will remain high.

  3. Wait a second. You mean that Portland — God’s gift to the environment — charges only $1.60 per hour to park downtown, while Seattle charges $2.50? And our mayor wants to significantly increase Seattle’s parking rate? lol

    I find it interesting that in the discussions over our mayor’s proposal to increase on-street parking rates, I never once read that the parking rate in downtown Portland is almost a dollar per hour lower than in Seattle. Isn’t Seattle supposed to strive to “be more like Portland”? Or, is that only in selective areas?

    1. Oh stop it straw man. =) Portland’s great, but there are many ways in which we don’t want to emulate Portland and you know it. They have cheaper parking, a higher drive-alone rate, slow at-grade light rail downtown, fewer major employers, etc etc… the ‘Portland is God’ stuff comes mostly in USA Today caliber publications. The rest of us are capable of sufficiently handling complexity to be able to praise a city for certain things without that necessarily translating into an uncritically blanket endorsement.

  4. Well, Norman, Portland does charge for parking on Sundays, something Seattle doesn’t. In general Portland has cheaper parking so the city has to compete to an extend.

    Regarding park and rides, it’s high time to start charging. I’d like to see ST implement a policy that starts charging when lots are at 90% average capacity on a daily basis. We have too many hundreds of millions of dollars tied up in parking lots that provide no revenue and are often full. A reasonable charge can still encourage transit use, but in a way that maximizes the resources (such as encouraging people to park closer to home or to carpool to the station).

    1. I agree, and Tacoma Dome is a prime example. The problem is that Tacoma has a ridiculous geography challenge, which has led to two big transit hubs (10th and Commerce bus station, and Tacoma Dome) in parts of town that really don’t provide great transit access to anywhere other than the other transit hub. 6th Avenue could be a massive transit corridor, but continues to be held semi-hostage by bus service and the price tag of engineering a T-Link extension up a sizable hill. The result is overflowing P&R’s (as Tacoma’s often is, to say nothing of the Tukwila Link station) because people who do want to take mass transit have few (if any) efficient options to take local routes to use regional transit. The time lost offsets any potential benefit (or in some cases, incurs a realizable loss) of a transit-only trip. Pay parking is certainly one way to stem the tide at stretched P&Rs, but it’s only a band-aid on the larger problem: a lack of efficient local-to-regional-transit connections.

      1. I think a lot of the way tacoma’s system was structured relates back 30-40 years when Downtown was on a deline, and there was an abundance of structured parking and free on street parking to meet the commuter’s demands. Which meant that transit took on more of an all day service role. The Seattle Express service more than likely took advantage of cheaply had P&R in the dome district, not to mention its proximity to I-5 which leads us to what we have today.

        It will be intresting to see the effects of paid parking on transit ridership, especally with the shift in service patterns with PT Tommorw. Not to mention hopefully more intergration with ST and Sounder as well.

  5. I think charging for parking is a good idea. I was visiting the other Washington (D.C.) and took a local bus (Fairfax CUE) from my hotel to the Vienna Metro station and hopped on the train from there. Got to see a line of cars trying to get into Vienna’s park & ride lot and wondered to myself, “how many of these people have a bus from their house to the Metro station?”

    Just don’t get any funny ideas of requiring people to use ORCA to pay for parking (as D.C. does with its SmartTrip card). Cash or ORCA would be fine (I’m thinking of the tourists).

    This also makes me think of how the system maps need to be redesigned (yeah, yeah, the subject’s been beaten to death on this blog before and I pretty much agree with the ideas talked about here before).

  6. “Sources at the City of Tacoma admit that the 75¢ rate will not cover administrative costs”

    So what? Parking fees in the city are really designed to create turnover which improves business conditions for city merchants. I suspect added tax revenues from improved turnover may just tip the balance. Either way, “free” parking really isn’t. Those who choose to drive should be paying for it.

    I sure hope Sound Transit follows suit and starts charging for parking at the Tacoma Dome – $2 a day should be a nice place to start.

    1. Sound Transit already charges cyclists $50 per year for bike lockers. We are the only ones who actually pay to park at a park & ride.

      If you want to have everybody pay market rate for parking costs, bring it on. At $37,000 for a parking stall vs. about $2000 for a bike locker or about $300 for a bike rack, cyclists wouldn’t pay much more than we do currently. Motorists, on the other hand…

      1. Private parking garages and surface lots in Seattle make money. They charge enough to cover the cost of builing the parking facilities, plus a profit. That is “market rate” price for parking.

      2. Except, Norman, what’s the opportunity cost of using those lots for parking rather than developing them? What do they contribute in tax revenue or economic activity compared to what other uses for that site might contribute?

      3. The Commercial parking tax generates about $20 million per year in revenue to the city of Seattle, and the city wants to increase that tax rate by about 25%, which would bring in an added $5 million per year. There is also property tax paid on those properties, and I don’t know what the culmulative amount of property tax the city receives from all the parking garages, lots etc. in Seattle, but I am sure it is substantial.

        It’s up to the property owner to decide what is the “best” use for his/her property. If the property were more valuable being used for something other than parking, most property owners would put something else there in order to put their property to its most-profitable use.

      4. “Private parking garages and surface lots in Seattle make money.”

        In many cases, surface lots are used to provide a marginal level of income while a land owner speculates on increased property value. The real money is in development.

        “The Commercial parking tax generates about $20 million per year in revenue to the city of Seattle”

        Which is *far* outstripped by property tax revenues. The old WAMU tower generates $1 Million in property tax revenues for the city. That’s ONE building.

  7. Velo: right on man, your numbers are pretty accurate, some estimate a structured space at an even higher value. I’m just disapointed that the city of Tacoma currently has no plans to implement a parking benefit district with at least a sliver of the slim revenue they will get up front, increasing as the amortized cost of the meters and pay stations are paid off. The benefit district model has worked in places like Pasadena to better implement pedestrian and bike oriented features, making accessibility through these modes a more attractive when the financial disincentive to park downtown for every trip is realized by the user… I cant think of one bike lane or sharrow in all of downtown tacoma right now.

  8. Charging for parking downtown will help bolster transit ridership some. I think in combination of PT Tommorw’s shift towards peak services with charging for parking will help attract new riders, sadly at the inconvience of some of the more vulnerable riders who ride the daybase service.

    Also, if the economy picks up (and depending on parking conditions at TDS), it may also be time to investigate re-opening the S24th/ASt – I705 P&R lot, and the old Tacoma Dome “G” lot. It would be relativly easy to work the G lot back into transit operations, with coaches using 26th to D to Wiley Ave to serve the facility. And they already pass by S24th/St.

    Of course this dosent address the large commuter mecca that’d be created, but an overall redesign of all I-5 services from Olympia to Everett from scratch is probally needed from all agencies to help with this.

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