Government encourages automobile use

Akos Szoboszlay

While recent government policies have mouthed encouragement for travel by means other than the automobile, specific policies of the past that actually do the opposite have, for the most part, remained intact. These are not only bicycle prohibitions, but outright subsidies for the automobile. The sales tax for freeways encourages greater and longer distance car commuting. Government forces great parking lots to be provided, as a function of floor area and building usage. Cities usually force one parking space per bedroom for apartments, and one parking space per restaurant table. Both parking requirement laws and low density zoning laws encourage car commuting, and discourage transit (service is infrequent) and bicycling (increases travel distance).

Government required parking is actually a forced subsidy for the automobile which only car commuting employees, not bicyclists or transit patrons, benefit from. The ideal would be for companies to charge for parking and divide the money by the number of employees, refunded in paychecks. By removing the artificial incentive for car commuting, other transportation modes are encouraged. But it is not to the company's financial advantage to use this or any other scheme to discourage the number of cars brought to work because the cities force so many parking spaces per floor area, even if the spaces go unused, thus preventing productive use of the land. Furthermore, parking costs are tax deductible, but not transit passes or a parking rebate for non-car users, further skewing the transportation system toward car commuting.

Companies are also prevented from using the land productively by low density zoning. In Silicon Valley's industrial areas it is typically .35 FAR (Floor Area Ratio, the sum of the area of all the floors, divided by the area of the property parcel). This means that for a 3 story building, only .35/3 can be taken up by the building, leaving 88%, of the land of the company that must be parking or other unproductive space. Wide streets for car commuters decreases productive land even further. The prime reasons for low density zoning has consistently been "traffic mitigation".

Companies must also pay special taxes to subsidize automobile commuting: assessment districts for traffic mitigation (usually adds more lanes of polluting automobiles) and developer fees for regional roads.

Property taxes pay for most city-provided automobile transportation expenses. It pays police time for traffic enforcement (about 40% of the police budget), much street lighting and signal lights, city parking lots, access water drainage costs from too much pavement, fire and paramedic emergency services for automobiles, school crossing guards, the City Attorney (about 1/3 of time devoted to automobile cases), etc.

Repealing parking requirement laws, low density zoning (for traffic mitigation), and all other subsidies for automobiles, both direct and indirect, are required to return to a free market system in the urban transportation market. Then, private enterprise may again provide unsubsidized, non-polluting guideway transit (which we had in Santa Clara Valley at a time when population density was a small fraction of what it is today).

home page | about MTS | Cashout | HOV lanes | Bay Bridge | Solution | Allow Pedestrians! | AGT | letters | webmaster