Parking Fee Hike Will Fund Low-Income Transit Rides

Even by local measures, the “climate fee” is an unusually pointed rebuke to drivers.

STREET CENTS: Street parking just went up 20 cents in Portland. (Sam Gehrke)

Motorists returning to downtown after the July 4 holiday will notice a change when they pay for street parking: The price went up 20 cents on every spot.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation says it’s a “climate fee,” intended to remind people of “the externalized costs of driving (including greenhouse gas emissions, traffic congestion, and use of roadway space).”

Even by local measures, that’s an unusually pointed rebuke to drivers. But cities across the nation are shouldering the task of crafting policies to offset climate change, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court stripping the federal government of its tools, as The New York Times reported last week.

The fee was the brainchild of a city task force, which met for a year to find ways to “address the climate crisis by reducing driving, while also addressing the historic inequities in our transportation system,” says PBOT spokeswoman Hannah Schafer.

The Portland City Council accepted the task force’s recommendations in October and directed the trans bureau to develop and implement appropriate strategies. The parking fee, which the task force designated as a “nearer-term solution,” is the first of these recommendations to go into effect, but Schafer says more are on the way.

So where is the money going? Schafer says the bureau expects to raise $2 million in the first year, and use that money provide transit passes to people living in affordable housing and give Biketown rides to people receiving social services.

City Hall has not created exemptions for low-income drivers—although the task force suggested it try. Schafer says an economic crunch, like the one now caused by inflation, is “a time when people start to rethink how they travel because of pricing. We’re really excited to be able to have more options available to folks now than we did [in 2008] to make it possible for them to choose options other than driving.”

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