The Politics of Transportation: Who Should getDowntown? (With A Poll)
I had a very pleasant meeting with Nancy Shore, who heads the getDowntown program. For those who may not have heard about the program, here’s a description from the gD web site:
The mission of the getDowntown Program is to reduce the number of downtown commuters driving to work alone and to create more transportation choices for downtown commuters through promoting existing transportation options and advocating for new ones. getDowntown strives to accomplish this mission by promoting existing choices, providing research on the benefits of sustainable transportation, organizing events, interacting with downtown employers and employees, and interfacing with numerous downtown stakeholders.
It’s a several hundred thousand dollar marketing program aimed at downtown business owners and workers who commute downtown to their jobs. It is not aimed at Ann Arbor residents, per se. It’s funded by federal grants, and then primarily by the Downtown Development Authority, as well as the AATA and the City of Ann Arbor. So, our tax dollars make up a part of the basis of the entity’s source of funding. This is a list of the getDowntown program’s accomplishment is 2009. Among those accomplishments are a blog and a Twitter account. I’m not thrilled with the use of tax dollars for blogging and tweeting. However, there are other more substantive accomplishments that more than compensate for the social media expenditures. The first accomplishment was the Zipcar program. If you don’t know zip about Zipcars, it’s time to learn. It may mean the difference between having one car, two, or even more at your house.
Ann Arbor is the only city in Michigan with a Zipcar program. There are Z-car programs in other college towns, and a quick look at the Zipcar hourly rate schedule shows that Ann Arbor’s $8 per hour weekly rental rate is higher than the rates charged in Cambridge, Portland, Seattle and Chicago. Keep the car for a day and pay $66 in Ann Arbor. However, the daily rate charged here is higher than that charged in larger cities such as Milwaukee, and even Philadelphia. Go figure. Literally. According to figures from AAA, “the average person spends $9,641 per year for the privilege of driving. Keep in mind that these estimated costs are based on an average gasoline cost of $2.256 per gallon. The numbers also don’t include the cost of parking.” Our family has had one car for seven years and we’ve saved, then, about $67,000 based on AAA’s research and data. Even at the $66 daily rate, treating yourself to the occasional Zipcar is a bargain when compared to owning a second car.
While talking to the getDowntown Program Director, Nancy Shore, we discussed an issue that I believe is very important to come to terms with as we shape policy related to parking, alternative and non-motorized transportation: Until Ann Arbor no longer relies on parking revenue to pay the costs associated with the daily operation of city government, and city debt, our city will never, literally, be able to afford an honest commitment to alternative and non-motorized transportation. If the number of people driving cars into downtown Ann Arbor and parking suddenly dropped by 50 percent, and parking revenues dropped by a corresponding amount, we would have some serious problems funding the structures we have now. However, the DDA is not simply funding parking structures. The DDA is going to pay $500,000 per year for the next 30 years (about one-third of the yearly debt payment) for the new Police-Court facility. In addition, yearly, the city takes money from the DDA which is then deposited directly into the General Fund.
Is it any wonder the DDA Board voted in February 2009 to increase parking fares from $.80 cents per hour in 2009 to $1.10 an hour by 2012, and City Council members went right along with the DDA Board’s “recommendation?”
The getDowntown program was established in 1999. In 2009, getDowntown issued 5,900 go!passes. Under the auspices of this program, downtown employers are subsidized by, yes, taxpayers, when they purchase go!passes for their employees. According to the getDowntown web site: “Downtown businesses can purchase go!passes for their employees at an annual cost of only $5.00 per employee. This price is much cheaper than buying regular bus passes ($37.50 a month) or purchasing parking spaces (starting at $125 a month).”
In May, the getDowntown program issued its annual Commuter Challenge. What is it? “The Commuter Challenge is a month-long competition sponsored by the getDowntown organization in May between downtown Ann Arbor organizations that encourages employees to use sustainable transportation to get to work. Organizations compete against one another and log sustainable commutes online on the getDowntown website. Common sustainable commutes include walking, biking, busing, and carpooling/vanpooling to work.”
The program allows participants to “view the calories burned, carbon emissions reduced and miles logged for yourself and your organization.” There are also prizes. Sounds great, huh?
What if such a program existed for Ann Arbor residents, as well? Would you use a monthly bus pass to get downtown and participate in a similar commuter challenge? According to Shore, there is no program to market sustainable commuting to the the residents of Ann Arbor who don’t work downtown. Part of the reason for this is obvious. Like the pie-in-the-sky business model that recycling should be a “profit” center for Ann Arbor, parking has morphed into yet another “profit center.” Right now, the objectives of the getDowntown program are in direct conflict with the city’s addiction to parking revenue.
What we’re left with is the equivalent of political lip service to alternative, non-motorized and sustainable transportation. According to the getDowntown web site, “In 2009, 139 organizations competed in the Commuter Challenge and 1,806 participants logged at least one sustainable commute in May. There were a total of 20,391 sustainable commutes logged by participants.” There are 50,000 non-student adults who live in Ann Arbor. What if 10,000 people logged at least one sustainable commute per month?
I want see Ann Arbor be a real transportation trendsetter, and to do that it’s going to mean re-evaluating our transportation priorities and political policies. I’d like to see everyone who is resident of Ann Arbor encouraged to getDowntown, so would our downtown merchants. Right now, our tax dollars are targeted on a relatively small group of downtown businesses to get people to and from work. I’d like to see Shore’s getDowntown program spun off from city control, where it is used for political fodder, and a different relationship established between Ann Arbor and the getDowntown organization. Ultimately, I’d like to see getDowntown go head-to-head with the city’s parking system, and work to exponentially expand the number of sustainable trips made downtown by commuters and residents, alike.
How about you?
Short URL: http://www.a2politico.com/?p=3261