The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) District, the rail agency serving the San Francisco Bay area, includes a total of 43 stations, with approximately 46,000 parking spaces at 31 stations. Due to the Bay area's high share of transit commuters, parking at the stations is in high demand. Many of the BART stations have a parking shortage, especially during peak commute hours, and it is difficult to secure land and funding for additional spaces. In 2002, BART implemented a monthly reserved parking program to guarantee commuters a space during peak hours. However, when monthly subscribers do not take transit everyday, reserved spaces are underutilized. From 2004 to 2006, researchers implemented a smart parking field test at the Rockridge, Oakland BART station to complement the monthly reserved program by providing daily flexibility during the morning commute to those who do not use transit everyday.
The project included in-ground sensors in the BART parking lot to determine available parking spaces, two changeable message signs (CMSs) located on the highway that display dynamically updated parking availability information for motorists, and a computer reservation system accessible via the Internet and a telephone Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. This paper examines the institutional, user perspective, and operational lessons learned from the smart parking field test.
The determination of the fee structure for smart parking is a critical element to consider when developing any implementation plan. The cost of drive-in vs. advance reservations is a case in point. Mid-way through the smart parking field test, users were charged $1.00 per day for drive-in reservations and $4.50 per day for advanced reservations. After the fees were implemented, data revealed that drive-in reservations increased while advanced reservations decreased. Sixty-four percent of survey respondents reported that they continued smart parking use when fees were introduced; however, nearly 75% of respondents noted that they would stop using the service, if daily parking fees equaled or exceeded $5.00 US per day. Furthermore, 43% answered “yes” when asked if they made fewer advanced versus drive-in reservations. While overall, participants stated that they would be willing to pay for smart parking, they also indicated the following pricing preferences:
- Smart parking should not be more expensive than monthly reserved parking. While it may seem self-evident that this would be the case, it is important to remember to keep the overall combined cost of reservation fees and actual parking below the cost of the monthly reserved parking.
- Charge parking reservation fees on a per-transaction basis instead of carrying a balance. As part of the smart parking reservation process, users entered a credit card that was charged a flat fee of $30. Reservation fees were deducted from the account balance, and an additional $30 was added automatically, as needed. Users expressed a preference for a per transaction charge rather than a flat fee, due to the fact that some users only needed parking for a short period and would not use the full $30 balance.
The pricing of smart parking is an important component of a successful program. Feedback from the smart parking field test program participants indicate that while many are willing to pay a fee, at a certain price point individuals will opt out of the system. Therefore, when designing a fee structure it is critical to balance the program’s financial needs with maintaining desired participation levels.