Do You Need Your Bus Pass Validated?
From Dave Van Hattum, Policy & Advocacy Program Manager
You often hear of stores, businesses, and offices validating your parking ticket as a way of thanking you for shopping there or defraying the cost of getting where you need to be. But, have you ever heard anyone offer to validate your bus pass or reward you for bicycling or walking to the same location? Even at meetings focused on sustainability, rail lines, and, ironically, parking pricing, I’ve rarely heard anyone offer to validate or cover my bus pass.
Culture matters. Our daily habits and assumptions about ‘appropriate’ behavior reflect our unique cultural perspectives and our broader values. Reimbursing individuals for the cost of parking their car, but not expenses associated with bus, bike or foot travel conveys a strong message. It’s interesting that our cultural norm is to “validate” parking. By only compensating meeting participants or shoppers for parking expenses, we, in effect “invalidate” bus use and the bus system, bicyclists and bike paths, and people who walk. Imagine if a meeting host asked, “Who needs gas money to get back to their office?” Why, exactly, does parking get such special treatment?
In the moment, the act of validating parking has a small impact on how people travel to meetings. After all, in most cases the parking validation isn’t saving the individual money; the employer realizes the savings, as most employees get reimbursed for parking expenses. But, the offer to validate parking reinforces the “driving” behavior and makes employers complicit in the practice of prioritizing cars over other modes.
On a broader scale, employers often provide free parking to employees as a perk, without the option of a similar contribution to non-car travel. Most retail and service destinations provide seas of “free” parking (at a considerable cost to their bottom line) but often lack bike racks and convenient bus stops.
Moreover, the cultural preference for parking is top down not just bottom up. The Federal tax code provides miniscule incentives for employees to bike to work, and for years provided far greater incentives for driving than for taking transit. That changed last year with the federal stimulus—and Congress voted just this week to extend the benefit for transit.
If you’d like to see more transit and non-motorized transportation options, we encourage you to pay attention to how parking is dealt with in our culture. Here are a few things you can do:
- Talk to your employer. Ask for a fair employee transportation benefit policy (i.e. equal benefit regardless of transportation mode) and a policy that employees will not accept a parking validation at meetings unless validation (i.e. reimbursement) is also offered for those who arrive by transit or bike. Encourage employers in downtown Minneapolis to sponsor a Nice Ride Minnesota bike sharing subscriptions for employees for making short trips during the day.
- Write your Congressperson and thank them for extending the commuter benefit for transit, and keeping it on par with parking.
- Give merchants and service providers the TLC business cards that say I arrived by bike/bus and want to see convenient infrastructure for those travel modes. (For copies of the cards, email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Note: In the bill extending the Bush era tax cuts, Congress also extended for one year the transit benefit cap, so that it matches the benefit allowed for parking expenses.