The magic number here today is 6. As in 6 dollars. As in the daily price of a round-trip express bus fare in and out of downtown Minneapolis. As far as transit fares in this country go, this isn’t outrageous. New Yorkers pay $2.25 each way on the subway to get anywhere they want in their city. In D.C., a long-distance Metro trip comparable to many of our express routes will run you as much as $5.75 each way (though most trips are cheaper).
In those cities, however, because parking is mostly consolidated into above- or below-ground garages and priced accordingly, there’s an economic motivation for commuters to opt for transit. (The average price of daily parking in D.C. is $18, while the average price in New York ranges from $30 (downtown) to $41 (midtown).) Here in Minneapolis, though, because much of our downtown land is dedicated to surface parking (which costs about one-third the price of garage parking on a per-spot basis), we’ve managed to keep the price of parking very low. Self-defeatingly low if you’re Metro Transit, because people are rational beings, and as long as parking is as cheap or cheaper than taking transit, most people will have little reason (other than their desire to lower their carbon footprint, which generally loses out to our desire to save money and time) to opt for the bus or the light rail.
Below is a look at the pricing schemes for many of the surface lots (and even a couple of garages) that line the 5th Avenue corridor of Downtown East, the area currently being studied by the city to figure out how this space can be used for something other than car storage. As you can see, the price of parking is consistently equal to or lower than the price of taking transit.
There’s a chain reaction that is set off by this kind of pricing: cheap parking leads to less transit use, which leads to less revenue for transit operators, which leads to decreases in the quality/frequency of service, which leads to even steeper drop off in transit ridership, which leads to even more traffic and congestion and car-centric policies downtown, which leads ultimately to the situation we’re faced with now: a downtown that is struggling to make itself appealing to potential residents because it’s clearly been built for cars, not for people.