Saturday, August 23, 2014

DRAFT-- some tentative thoughts on parking meters and transport in Salem generally

I have been working sporadically for many months to come up with an approach to dealing with the nasty, sniping fight that has flared up over parking on Salem. I  wanted to have a more polished presentation ready before unveiling it but like all good intentions . . . Overtaken by events.

Anyway, here's a first draft of thoughts, dictated (so excuse typos), definitely subject to revision:

Q: why do you oppose parking meters in downtown Salem?

A: several reasons.

First, parking meters or a permanent and costly solution to a temporary problem, which will likely solve itself as continued high gas prices and increasing unaffordability of driving makes alternative approaches better equipped to succeed, without the nasty investment and then perpetual payback for meter infrastructure and upkeep.

Second, and this is related, is that solving the systemic problem in only one area simply disadvantages that area relative to the rest.

Third, there is the equity problem. In a city without a functioning transit system, There is a real equity problem in imposing parking meters that are not tied to ability to pay. The poor already spend a hugely disproportionate share of their income by having to have a car. Allowing free parking ramps, but making prime parking spaces on the street available for a price, continues the privatization of the public space, where those with wealth get to purchase the best of the public has provided for everyone and those without resources or shunted further and further away out of sight.

This is not to say that pricing is not a solution Salems parking problems. Only that it is important that the system must be treated first as the system and not as unrelated isolated problem. Parking is only a small part of the system problem.

Q: okay, then what is the solution?

A: I think the most productive path to a suite of positive approaches – what I am carefully trying not to call the solution — is to recognize that the paved roadway system is a network utility, like the electricity, Internet, telephones, water, natural gas, and sewer.

As many people have noted, the way we pay for transportation – the burden we place on the public system, and the imposition we inflict on those around us by our use of the network – is terribly illogically priced. 

Gasoline is probably the only logically priced part of the system, because gasoline is strictly priced according to use, and use roughly correlates with the weight of the vehicle, which is a proxy for the damage that the vehicle does to the public roadways. This is changing somewhat with the advent of electric and hybrid cars, but for all the publicity they get, they are still a trivial share of the driving we do, and so they do not change the fundamental reality that fuel is the only part of our transportation system that is logically priced according to use.

Q: so how does thinking of the transportation system, or the roadway system, as a network utility help anything?

A: the great thing about thinking of the roadway system as a network utility is that it immediately offers a wealth of alternative and experience from other systems about how other networks manage to sort out conflicting priorities and how to allocate the resource most efficiently and how those network managers deal with equity considerations within a larger price structure that allocate the resources according to ability to pay.

Q: such as?

A: consider how we are now dealing with storm water runoff, which is related to our sewage treatment costs. We used to hit everybody with basic sewer charges and that gigantic house with lots of concrete and impermeable surface pay the same for water stormwater runoff processing contribution as a tiny house with nothing but trees on the lot. Now we've gone to recognizing that different development patterns place different burdens on the stormwater runoff system. Each lot is considered individually, and they are charged a different assessment based on their fraction of impermeable surface – the surface that causes stormwater runoff.

The burdens on the roadway system can be assessed individually easily as well. Every business and residence in Salem places a call on the common resource – the roadway system. But the grandmother who long since stopped driving puts a very low call on the system compared to the busy house with 3 teens and two adults each of whom have a car or truck of their own. Essentially, grannies call on the system is the ability of emergency vehicles to reach her home when necessary. 

By placing the use of emergency vehicles into the general fund, and making public agencies pay for the transportation – whoever is the use of alternative one possible – it's possible to charge ready for her access to the service but she never uses in the same way that we all pay insurance quotes that we never use the insurance.

Q: what are you talking about?

A: i'm talking about paying for roads through a series of charges that are assessed on each address in on each vehicle in order to pay for a complete, functioning transit and roadway system. In other words, we reduce everybody's taxes by cutting their taxes , that is, taking off of their tax bills all the money currently being spent on transit and roadways. And then we change to fund those public goods -- those network services --  through a series of charges that are based on individual assessments rather than on property values.

The individual assessments are quantifiable, objective, fair, charges for the burden that each person at each address places on the network services — transit and roadways.

For residences, the charges start with each vehicle that is registered at each residence. The size and weight of the vehicle is the first consideration. That's pretty elementary, and pretty easy to do. You end up with a table that everyone can consider when shopping for a vehicle, and it really makes the decision to purchase a second vehicle or the first vehicle a big step up in fees— Which is another way to reward people for only having one vehicle or avoiding additional vehicles, and especially big reward for those who have no vehicles and who plays little or no demand on the roadway system through usage.

The second component of the roadway network utility charge for residents this has to do with accessability. Here, there is a reward for people who live in compact spacing and who will provide the density needed for efficient delivery of goods and services and support for transit. People who live in transit third areas will pay more on their network utility charge because of having access to transit. But they will pay less proportionately because of the density factors the excess ability of their home is hard and so many others will share the charges with them.

Contrary to that, is the people living in low-density suburban sprawl, the winding streets and cul-de-sacs that characterize places like West Salem. These are fantastically expensive places to serve with public services, and impossible to serve with transit. With a few residence per network mile, the charges for people living in those places will be much higher per capita. This is offset somewhat by the fact that those places tend to be much more affluent anyway. But, it's not about taxing based on income, but rather charging based on the costs that they impose on the system. Sprawl is simply so inefficient that it's impossible to serve inexpensively, and it has a lot to do with why Salem's budget is so broken.

But density is not the only factor. The location within the network is another factor for each residence. A high density unit on the edge of the city will pay more for the network utility charge than the same high density unit would pay in a more central location. Each address would have a computed accessibility score, which factors in the number of approaches – the number of nodes through which you can reach the point of analysis without duplicating the path — and in this analysis, the centralized network place is better than the place on the branch, because of the first number of paths to the same point suggest that the pressure will be distributed evenly around the residence, rather than building up pressure to expand the arteries on the network.

Thus, the person who lives in a transit served, dense area will pay little or nothing for the network utility charge directly if they choose not to have a car because they place little or no direct demand on the system. Conversely, if they choose not to have a car, but demand that services be delivered to them through a car or a truck, they will pay (through the price of the goods and services delivered to them) the prices that those service providers will pay in paying the network utility charge.

Q: how does billing work?

A: same as water and sewer bills now, only more predictable and efficient.

"Let's live on the planet as if we intend to stay."