Northgate in the 1950s (

I haven’t said much about the attempt in Olympia to pit Seattle’s parking tax against the U-Pass program because I have no independent way to evaluate the claim that the current tax threatens the program. Feel free to convince me in the comments.

Meanwhile, PubliCola reports on Senators White, Murray, Nelson, Kohl-Welles, and Kline (all from Seattle) introducing another awesome bill with no chance this session:

The bill… would allow Seattle to impose a fee on every non-city-owned commercial parking stall in the city. The per-stall fee would apply not just to commercial (paid) parking lots but to free lots like those at Northgate. A per-stall fee would cost the UW less than the commercial parking tax, but would almost certainly be opposed by businesses whose parking is currently free.

SB 5910 calls into relief the incentives that current parking policy creates. There’s nearly no impediment to providing free parking, especially once it’s been built. But if a property owner is interested in operating a smaller lot that requires demand management through pricing, he or she is subjected to the hassle involved in collecting a tax for the city.

37 Replies to “A Different Way to Tax Parking”

  1. I think the initial idea may be good, but at what cost to small employers is this going to be? I don’t see how this will benefit my workplace, and I commute solely by public transportation.

    So, here we have an idea that will benefit some…..hmmmm.

    1. Parking should never be free. Period. Small employers have to pay utility taxes, business taxes, property taxes, why shouldn’t they have to pay a tax for providing free parking? Free parking leads to more traffic, more wear on roads, etc. The tax shouldn’t be huge or punitive, just a small signal and a way to mitigate the negative impacts.

      1. Huh? It isn’t free for the business who sponsors parking for their customers! They have to maintain the spaces, etc, plus the initial cost of having to build it in the first place. There are already enough bizarre taxes upon taxes piled onto small businesses. If they’re going to institute another tax, then at least make everything comprehensive and straight forward.

        What isn’t explained(and this explains why its DOA in the state legislature), is what benefits does it help the small business owner or employee? You can spout any rhetoric all you want to make yourself feel better; but if this can’t be demonstrated as a viable tool for the everyday user, then obviously either the proponents of this are doing a poor job of getting the message across, or its a bad idea in the first place.

      2. Parking lots are taxed under the Surface Water Management fee. They should be taxed at a higher rate than buildings because roofs are basicly clean water and parking lots, well.. not so much. At the very least they should not be eligible for the Pervious Surface Absorption Discount and should be encouraged to drain somewhere that has at least oil skimming facilities.

  2. If Seattle were to levy this, developers of mixed-use or transit-oriented commercial development would be caught between a rock (the per-stall tax) and a hard place (parking minimums).

    1. First of all, parking minimums should be eliminated. Second, this will cause those parking stalls to cost the developer more and may lead to them charging a fee for the spot rather than bundling it in with rent, a common car subsidy.

      1. I’m all for abolishing the parking minimum, as long as they start implementing zone parking in more places. Buildings with less than a certain amount of stalls/spaces per units would not be allowed to apply for a zone parking permit.

    2. Aren’t parking minimums already waived in station areas (such as Northgate will be?) They should be abolished everywhere, of course.

  3. As much as I am interested in this idea, how do you counter the arguments that people/businesses will have against this? “Seattle has nickel-and-dimed me enough. I’m moving my company and my 17 employees to Bellevue/Lynnwood/Renton/Marysville!”

    1. I think this idea would be most politically palatable if it were paired with a reduction or offset in the commercial parking tax, or if it were limited to station areas of light rail, or to the existing designated urban villages, or some combination thereof. Outside of those areas, I’m not sure how much this would achieve anyway, and it might be counterproductive, as you suggest.

      Most of the employers downtown don’t actually provide parking anyway, so this doesn’t affect them directly. I think Northgate is by far the most obvious target of this proposal. It’s a giant car-mall that, in 12 years or so will be a station on a subway that connects Downtown Seattle, Downtown Bellevue and the Ranier Valley with sub-10-minute headways all day. This does not compute.

      1. The Northgate area is innovative in several ways. Some of these the mall had a role in, others not. (1) It has been north Seattle’s transit hub for decades. (2) One of its parking lots is now TOD. (3) Northgate North has several big box stores stacked on top of each other in a compact space. (4) The north Northgate P&R was turned into a park. (5) You can now go to the library/movies/supermarket/gym as well as shops and restaurants and return home or to the transit center— all within walking distance.

      2. Well, yes, although if your 41 is going on to Lake City, it’s far quicker to stay on it to get to the Northgate North than to walk. As a matter of land use it’s a vast improvement over the U-Village, but it’s not terribly pedestrian friendly.

        Actually, what I’d really like, and just might fly, would be a state law that allowed the city to impose an annual per-stall tax in any zoning area where there was no parking minimum. Require this fee to be offset against that year’s commercial parking tax, so it wouldn’t be a tax hike for most places.

        Putting a per-stall minimum on the parking tax additionally penalizes those providing “free” parking just to subsidize one store, without additionally penalizing parking lots that provide more general utility.

      3. I’m talking about somebody who lives in the Northgate area: they can do all these things on foot… or take the 41 if they’re tired. Southcenter is not like this at all. I haven’t been to Alderwood much but I don’t think it’s like that either.

  4. If an apartment complex offers a parking stall bundled with the apartment, does the complex pay the commercial parking tax?

  5. This is probably more a philosophical conundrum that an economic one: If we complain about businesses getting free parking on public ROW, then charge for them building parking on their private property, what is the message we’re trying to send?

  6. For those currently playing Seattle’s commercial parking tax this is actually good for them since companies that now provide “free” parking have to pay just as much per stall as a “pay” parking lot right next door.

    1. That’s those who are providing free parking on their property. If the city is still allowing free parking on city ROW in front of a business, the business is still getting that freebee.

      Anyhoo, getting businesses to start charging for their parking (including dwellings) is a good thing, in my book. It’s also good for the business, since the customer will want to purchase something to validate her/his parking.

      Still, the city is going to have a hard time explaining why they are taxing something they required in the building code. Courts will look quite askance at that.

    1. I guess not enough people want to drive to Southcenter to fill up all those ample empty parking spots.

      1. Since they expanded and put in Seafood City…some of the freshest fish around, filleted for you while you wait…I often park on the edge. Don’t mind, as that give me a great little jaunt before going to his highly “walkable” mall.

    2. Apparently you don’t welcome apostrophes. And the idea of riding the 150 for an hour to get something I could get at the market up the street doesn’t appeal.

    3. Well, I have to say, I had a good experience at South Center even if I had to drive there. It’s a pity that Link couldn’t get routed there.

      And this was all because I wanted to see a movie and had to choose to either pay to park downtown or take the 20 minutes and drive to South Center. I considered driving to a link station in my hood but that didn’t mesh with showtimes.

      While it seems no one really lives in that part of Tukwila, I could envision a future similar to downtown Bellevue or places like Tyson’s Corner where the mall parking lots get converted to higher density uses such as living units, parks, promenades, etc. And people that chose to live there could potentially be in proximity to tens of thousands of jobs in the Renton – Kent valley area.

      1. Tukwila tried everything possible to arm-wrestle ST into building Link to their crappy mall. Fortunately for most people, although unfortunately for people who like walking through shopping mall parking lots, ST didn’t do that.

      2. There is nothing stoping Tukwila from putting in super-frequent bus service between the Mall and the nearest link station if the want it. Besides they could have the bus stop right at the mall entrance if they wanted it.

      3. I’m not sure why you think it’s a “crappy” mall. I was rather impressed with the changes they’ve made since I last set foot in the place — 20+ years ago. I especially liked the whole food court/entertainment upstairs. It was more than the usual food court fare. I also thought the Seafood city thing was nice and look forward to going back there. Yes, I know Seattle has a whole neighborhood where I could probably get similar things.

        Other than it would add a few more minutes to get to the airport, I think it would have been an excellent idea to have run Link to the mall. At the Mall of America near Minneapolis, the train terminates inside the garage right next to an entrance. So no walking across parking lots.

        I’d be willing to bet that if the train had serviced the mall the ridership on Link would be several thousand more riders a day. Because there is such a dearth of quality shopping in Rainier Valley accessible by transit that South Center would be the shopping destination of choice for Rainier Valley residents.

      4. They already have a train that takes them to Westlake Center.

        “There is nothing stoping Tukwila from putting in super-frequent bus service between the Mall and the nearest link station if the want it.”

        The 140 already makes that trip and may ultimately be converted to RapidRide.

  7. I just have a problem in general with Olympia dictating what special taxes local juristicions can levy. It should be a level playing field. What does it matter if someone from Spokane thinks King County has made a good faith effort to reduce costs and Pierce and Snohomish haven’t. In general, if there’s a special mandate that the State feels compelled to impose then it should be funded with State revenue. If cities want to tax parking to pay for transit then let them. If people don’t like it they’ll vote out their local leaders or move somewhere else.

  8. I think such taxes can cause sprawl. Unless they are imposed region wide, people and jobs will move away from taxes and other perceived impediments to freedom.

    So, if unless Seattle wants to give Tukwila lots of business then they should rethink this strategy.

      1. Why not? They’ve already opened what 2 or more ancillary campuses? One of my friends who’s on the faculty gripes about her commute drive to the Tacoma campus just so she can teach. If Sounder to Tacoma was regularly scheduled in both directions all day, she might have options.

  9. Instead of using the stick, why not use the carrot?

    It makes some sense for Seattle to charge for any parking spot added 180 days after the implementation of the policy, but why penalize people who previously followed code and/or demand and put in parking spots?

    You could then turn around and provide an incentive credit against other city taxes to turn existing parking spots into green spaces, privately maintained public squares, etc.

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