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California Employees Can Take Parking Space or Cash

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by Justin Homer

Last April, I wrote about SB 728, a bill from Long Beach State Senator Alan Lowenthal to expand compliance with California’s Parking Cash-Out program. I’m happy to report that the bill, co-sponsored by NRDC and Environmental Defense Fund, was signed by Governor Schwarzenegger early last week!

Starting on January 1, 2010, cities, counties and air districts will have the option of enforcing Parking Cash-Out. Permitting these entities to enforce the program is just one example of how Sacramento can give localities the tools they need to craft their own approaches to fighting global warming (as well as comply with SB 375).

What’s Parking Cash-Out? It’s simple: an employer who offers free or subsidized parking for employees must also offer a cash allowance equivalent to the subsidy in lieu of the parking space. So, if your free parking space at Justin Horner Pet Supplies & Satellite Repair Company costs me $200 per month, I can offer you either the space or a $200 monthly payment.

Where employers provide it, Parking Cash-Out reduces single-occupancy vehicle trips and increases carpooling and transit use. A survey of eight Southern California businesses using the Program found a 12% decline in annual vehicle miles travelled and global warming pollution per employee per year, and a nearly 10% increase in employees carpooling or using transit. All this, while putting more money in workers’ pockets and saving money for participating employers.

It’s also more fair: if you choose not to take my cash-out offer, you’re effectively paying $200 for your space, which removes the unfair subsidy you would normally get, but that your carpooling, transit-riding, walking and biking co-workers do not.

So-called free parking is never free. There’s the cost to construct it, operate it, maintain it, even light it and secure it. But more than 95% of all parking in California is free for drivers. The costs of this “free” parking are passed through to all of us in higher prices, higher rents, higher taxes and lower wages. Any effort to better match the real cost of parking to the decision to park will be both environmentally beneficial and more fair. SB 728 is just such an effort.


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