It’s common to see development projects and city initiatives promoting transit-oriented development, which is ostensibly the allowance of higher density, walkable development near transit stations, based on the idea that if people live within walking distance of transit, they won’t need to do as much driving.
This is true, too. According to Lisa Jacobsen and Rachel Weinberger of the Transportation Reserarch Board, who did a survey of 32 transit agencies (which did not include the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) found that the best situation for transit agencies was for stations to be surrounded by high density development with little to no parking. Such a situation also resulted in car use being up to 60 percent lower than Institute of Transportation Engineers standards predicted. Free parking provided by workplaces resulted in reduced transit usage, while the station being near the workplace was more of a factor in someone choosing to use transit.
Across all modes, only 22 percent of transit passengers used park and ride. All the agencies surveyed lost money on parking — the MBTA, however, anticipated net revenues of $17 million for FY16.
But when one considers that fare revenue was over $600 million for the same fiscal year, one begins to wonder if providing parking is really that important. Considering that parking facilities comprise a large part of the MBTA’s real estate holdings and real estate revenue was anticipated to decline by $700,000, perhaps the T should put its car storage space to work for it.
While there are some egregious examples in the core rapid transit system — Alewife, Wellington, Quincy Adams, Braintree and Quincy Center — the commuter rail system is the biggest offender. There are also absurd local policies in place, such as the fact that there are at least six parking garages within a half mile radius of Malden Center Station, plus numerous surface lots, and the way Assembly Square is developing as all parking garage.
For example, in 2014 the MBTA opened a new $34 million parking garage for a commuter rail stop in Beverly — twice the yearly net revenue of all the parking in the system. Not only that, the City of Beverly assessing department values the land and the building at around $4.1 million. That doesn’t sound financially sustainable.
Another interesting tactic of commuter rail planning is to locate stations a considerable distance from anything. This is the case with Framingham, Mishawum, Prides Crossing, Lowell, Providence and Worcester and others. It’s like transit in Boston has been designed to fail.