Los(t) Angeles: Substituting Free Parking For Fare-Free Transit

As I have referred to in previous posts, Los Angeles’ auto-oriented society along with Los Angeles’ dominating urban sprawl growth model creates difficult circumstances for Los Angelinos and the city of Los Angeles to become environmentally sustainable. With the decreasing revenues for mass-transit systems across the country leading to the contraction of current mass transit lines (see previous post “How the Vehicle Mileage Tax System Can Save President Obama’s Transportation Stimulus Package”) it is clear that turning Los Angeles into a sustainable, pedestrian oriented city is no easy task even with President Obama’s transportation stimulus package.

For this week’s post, I have decided to search the blogosphere in order to find new easily implemented solutions that can help Los Angeles reverse its urban sprawl growth model and in turn help Los Angeles head into the direction of becoming a pedestrian oriented city. The first feasible solution that I came across comes from an article found on the planning and development blog Planetizen, titled: “Why Is Fare-Free Transit The Exception Rather Than The Rule?” In this article, author Dave Olsen explains that using fare-free transit is the only effective way to promote mass transit ridership resulting in a shift towards sustainable living. Olsen explains that comprehensive mass-transit research demonstrates that the cost of operating a mass transit system is similar to its projected revenues. Olsen further explains that, “collecting fares is as or more expensive than the revenue it brings in.” With no stable source of income for mass transit systems, even when these systems collect fares, Olsen argues that public transit systems should then shift their priority from making a profit to prioritizing the main mandate of public transportation systems, that is getting people to use public transit. Olsen highlights the previous success achieved in cities that use fare-free transit systems like Hasselt Belgium, which increased public transit ridership by 1223% after switching to fare-free transit in only four years.
(See above image: a bus with no fare box).

The second solution to Los Angeles’ urban sprawl and car-oriented problems that I found is from the article: “Putting Parking into Reverse,” found on the Planetizen blog post: Cities Begin To Rethink Parking Policies. The solution identified in this article helps put an end to the negative urban sprawl cycle that is created with the allocation of required parking spots for existing and new developments. When a new development is built, city planners require a minimum number of subsidized on-site parking for that development. For example “office buildings [require] 2.79 [parking spaces] per 1,000 square feet; large shopping centers require five spaces for every 1,000 leasable square feet; and even apartments often have a minimum of two spaces.” (See left image: lost public space caused by required amount of parking). By requiring a minimum amount of parking spaces for each new development, these spaces facilitate and promote the use of cars, which causes an increase in private automobile use, decreases the use of public transit, and pushes buildings farther and farther away, leading to further urban sprawl and the need of more parking spaces. This article prescribes that city planners decrease the amount of public parking, increase the cost to use public parking based on current demand and congestion, and to allocate parking maximums rather than parking minimums for new developments, all in order to discourage the use of automobiles. By increasing the cost of public parking, and decreasing the amount of public parking available, urban citizens would choose to use other means of transportation over the use of private automobiles. My insight about these articles can be found on their websites, and below.

“Why Is Fare-Free Transit The Exception Rather Than The Rule?”

Thank you for this interesting post, I find the idea of fare-free public transit to be a perfect solution of promoting mass transportation ridership in the auto-oriented city of Los Angeles. With the decreasing revenue created by the sales and gas tax, the Federal Highway Trust Fund is being forced to cut mass transit service routes and is laying off employees. While the VMT tax system has been suggested to help generate revenue for the Federal Highway Trust Fund, switching to a fare-free transit system seems to be an even easier easy solution to implement.

It would be interesting to see the actual numbers and evidence of the research conducted on the costs of collecting fares, but if these numbers do show that the cost of collecting fares is more than the revenue collected by these fares, then there is no reason not to use fare-free transit. I agree that public transit is a public service, and therefore the United States should follow the trend started by Washington State, and try and get people onto public transit for the sake of the public rather than making profit.

I am confused as why you say, “the refreshing absence of advertising anywhere in the [fare-free] system definitely adds a large part to that shine,” for I do not see the problem with offering advertisement space on fare-free transit. You discuss in this post multiple post-fare funding techniques, why cannot selling advertisement space also be a technique to help generate funds?

Also I would like to add that while I do agree fare-free public transit is a viable option to help promote mass transit ridership, it is definitely not the only effective option. Curitiba Brazil has one of the most successful public transit systems due to their integrated land use and public transit planning along with their sophisticated tube stations. Under Curitiba’s combined transportation and land use policies, Curitiba Brazil only allows high-density zones to be built along large avenues that are only used for public transit. The buses that run on these large avenues are not subject to traffic or traffic lights, and run every 90 seconds. Due to Curitiba’s tube stations, riding the bus is more similar to riding the subway. Riders pay one fare for unlimited bus trips before entering the tube station. And once inside the tube station buses with extendable platforms and extra wide doors, allow all of Curitiba’s bus riders to exit and enter the buses in 15-20 seconds. Therefore fare-free transit is not the “only” way to run a public transit system, however it might be the best way to operate a public transit system that is in an area confined to urban sprawl.

Putting Parking Into Reverse

This article offers great insight about the negative consequences created by the minimum rather than maximum parking spaces required for new developments. By decreasing the amount of parking spaces, increasing the costs to park in parking spaces, and requiring a maximum amount of parking spaces per new development, cities will be able to reclaim the public space that is currently being used up by public parking.

While I agree with all of the parking tenants Dr. Shoup prescribes in order to discourage the use of automobiles, I question what happens in a city that does not have an efficient public transit system that is able to transport citizens in a effective and timely manner? While progressive cities like San Francisco have been quick to enact as many of Dr. Shoup’s parking tenants as possible, San Francisco has a successful public transit system to rely on to effectively transport citizens around its city. Los Angeles on the other hand may be enacting some of Dr. Shoup’s tenants but only for the sake of easing street congestion and raising revenue. With urban sprawl in Los Angeles, all areas within Los Angeles County are poorly connected by public transit, for its inaccessibility and its exposure to private automobile congestion. While this article defends that by eliminating free parking that urban sprawl will be put to a halt, this solution provides no means of alternate transportation and therefore cannot be as successful in Los Angeles than in a high-density city like San Francisco. Due to this reason I feel that it is important that cities like Los Angeles that direly need to decrease the use of their automobiles in order to become more sustainable enact as many of Dr. Shoup’s parking tenants as possible in conjunction to creating an effective and efficient mass transportation system in order to become a sustainable, pedestrian oriented society.


  1. Wow. Well thought out. Well written! Check out Commerce, CA - all free. Commerce moves as many people every day as Muni in San Francisco.
    Here are other success stories...
    Success Stories

  2. Your post makes some very insightful comments on a couple of proposed ideas that would overhaul the transit system of Los Angeles. The first is the idea of establishing a fare-free transit system in Los Angeles that would entice the public to ditch their cars and utilize mass transit. I found it interesting that the cost of collecting fares may in fact excede the revenue generated. If this is the case, fare-free transit may be the way to increase ridership. Although, establishing a robust and complete transit system in Los Angeles may be easier said than done. I liked the fact that you furthered the discussion about viable transit systems by offering Curitiba, Brazil as an example. It would be interesting to know how much revenue Curitiba’s transit system generates, and if they would actually benefit from going fare-free. Also, how likely is it that Los Angeles could implement a transit system, either following the Curitiba model, or the fare-free model.
    The second proposition is to reduce the amount of parking space in Los Angeles so that the public would be forced to ditch their cars and find some other means of transportation. You very rightly pointed out, however, that raising the price of parking and decreasing its availability would not change much without a proper alternative in place. I agree that Los Angeles may implement these proposals to reduce sprawl, but that the city needs a more robust mass transit system as a viable substitute.
    All in all, a great post that looks at Los Angeles’s transit problems from two different angles. A few minor considerations, it would have been nice to see some linking from your posts, especially where you talked about Curituba, Brazil. Your pictures flow quite well and your captions orient us as to what we are looking at. Overall, I enjoyed your post and look forward to reading your blog in the future.


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