Tonight, the Chapel Hill Town Council is expected to enact fees on users of their park and ride lots. This fee is in response to UNC’s decision to start charging at their own park and ride lots. Leaving Town-owned park and ride lots free would create a traffic nightmare, so the Town is trying to start their own permit program. I’m sure that the extra revenue that will be generated from this fee is also a consideration, especially in a tight budget year.
While most people (75% by CHT estimates) who use the park and ride lots are affiliated with UNC, there is a sizable minority who do not use the park and ride to travel to campus. UNC students and employees will pay for their permit through UNC (because of taxing and payroll deduction issues), and that money will then be given to the Town. Non-affiliated users will purchase their permits directly from the Town. The resolution being considered tonight sets the fee at $250/year, or about $1/weekday.
I understand the importance of implementing the fee, but there are two major issues that have not been addressed:
1) There are a number of Chapel Hill citizens that will be charged to use the fare-free transit system they already pay for with their tax dollars. While the park and ride lots are at the edge of town, there are Chapel Hillians who drive to the park-and-ride to utilize transit to downtown because they do not have a bus route nearby. There are also people (myself included) who utilize the Eubanks park and ride to take the CRX bus to Raleigh. This could be mitigated by creating a reduced fee rate for Chapel Hill citizens.
2) The Town is creating a disincentive for people to utilize transit, and might create parking and congestion problems in neighborhoods closer to campus. The park and ride fee is cheaper than parking downtown or on campus all day, but having a fee will hinder the convenience of using transit. Those who do not pay have two options. The first is to find an unpermitted residential neighborhood near a bus line, such as Parkside, and take the bus in. Once Carolina North opens, this will likely become more common. The second option is to utilize someone’s on-street parking permit. The Town only charges $25/year for residents to have a car in neighborhoods close to campus, and residents only need a copy of the lease (or proof of ownership), a driver’s license, and a car registration to get a permit. There is nothing to stop people from taking their friend’s registration to the Parking Services office to claim a permit that they would otherwise not use (there are a set number of permits available for a particular property). This might not happen as frequently as the first option, but permit fraud is likely to increase under this plan, giving the disparity in pricing.
Overall, the fee makes sense, but its implications have not been fully considered.