In what Los Angeles city officials see as a breakthrough in efforts to promote use of car pools and public transportation, unions representing thousands of city employees have tentatively agreed to increased parking fees for their members.
Under the pending agreements, thousands of city employees will pay up to $25 per month--up from the current maximum of $5--for Civic Center parking spaces. And, for the first time, car-poolers will be given free parking.
While the new fees do not cover the full value of downtown parking--which can range up to $150 per month--the tentative agreements are symbolically significant. They come as local elected officials are putting more pressure on private firms to increase ride-sharing. Recently, for example, the City Council adopted an ordinance requiring companies to increase car pooling by 10% a year.
Critics of Parking Policy
But city officials, who have provided employees with cheap parking, have been criticized for years by business leaders and transportation experts for not practicing what they preach. The more than 8,500 city employees in the Civic Center have been encouraged to drive to work alone by the availability of cheap parking in city garages and lots, critics say.
Studies have shown that when free parking is eliminated, worker use of car pooling and public transit increases by as much as 20%. Compared to building costly new highways or mass transit systems, increasing car pooling and van pooling is seen by many transit experts as the most cost-effective way to ease traffic congestion.
Public employee unions in the Civic Center have in the past strongly resisted higher parking fees, seeing a parking space as a basic fringe benefit. However, in this year's negotiations, Mayor Tom Bradley and the City Council demanded changes in parking fees as a condition of settlement.
After lengthy negotiations, agreement was recently reached with most major employee unions, City Hall and union sources said. The package still must be finally ratified by union members and the council as part of new labor agreements.
"I feel comfortable that unless there is some big glitch," the new fees will be approved by both sides, said Bob Duncan, executive director of the 6,000-member city Engineers and Architects Assn.
'Parking Was Vital'
Duncan said unions went along because employees are concerned about increasing traffic congestion and management placed major importance on the issue this year. "Parking was vital," he said. "They would not allow any of the (new agreements) to pass until such time as the parking agreements" were changed, he said.
It was not immediately clear how much revenue the higher fees would generate for the city, but Duncan said union officials want the money to be used to help fund van pools and ride-sharing programs.
Key city elected officials declined to discuss details of the tentative agreements, which have not been formally announced. But they stressed the importance of the parking fee issue.
"The mayor has long maintained that free parking is self-defeating to what we are trying to accomplish (in ride-sharing)," said William Bicker, who handles transportation matters for Bradley.
Noting that some studies have shown that 80% of downtown employee parking is provided free, Bicker said, "It is important to have the city show it is going to take a leadership role. . . . We certainly hope that firms will follow suit."