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$3 Billion From the Feds, Tales from Vienna, Going ‘Green’

By John Van Horn

Parking is subsidized $3 billion by the Feds, according to DC.StreetsBlog.org. Did you get your check? I sure didn’t. The online article doesn’t mean the government actually sends out money – like they do for farmers or education – but the subsidy comes as a tax break for parking expenses (i.e., when you drive to work and pay, say, $200 a month for parking, that can be written off your taxes).
It’s like your mortgage interest. The fact that you can write it off means that the government is subsidizing the purchase of your house.
Think of it this way: If you pay 25% of your income in federal taxes, and you can write off $200 a month in parking fees, it means the government is actually paying you $50 a month to help cover your parking costs – that’s a subsidy.
What is interesting is that the IRS allows you to write off only $100 in transportation costs (fares for buses or trains). And I thought that the Feds wanted to urge people out of cars and onto rapid transit. These tax laws don’t seem to do that.
However, the wizards in Congress are attempting to fix that. They are going to set a “maximum” you can write off of $230 a month total for both. Previously, it was $100 for transportation and $200 for parking. Of course, they want to reduce the “subsidy,” not increase it.
This seems a tad unfair to me. If I live in New York City, $200 doesn’t cover my parking costs. However, in Des Moines, much of the subsidy goes to waste. So by the fact of my geographic location, the government subsidizes my parking and transportation more or less.
All of this doesn’t make a lot of sense.
If I live in Des Moines and make $90,000 a year, I pay the same amount of federal taxes as the poor soul who makes the same in New York. However, they get more of a subsidy in parking and transportation than I do.
And, of course, this works for only those who actually pay taxes. If I make less than, what, $40K and have a bunch of kids, I don’t even pay taxes. So the subsidy works only for those who really don’t need it.
Confused? I know I am. As usual, the law of unintended consequences kicks in, and the folks with the bucks get the breaks and those without get it in the neck.
Fair? I don’t think so.
***
I spent some time in Vienna at the European Parking Association’s biennial conference in late September. Two conversations stood out.
I spoke with an international consultant. He told me that last year about this time his business just dried up. Projects were put on hold: “There is no money.” Two weeks before the conference, his phone began ringing off the hook. He now has more business than he can handle. “They are calling from everywhere, from Jamaica, from Lebanon, and from the UK. There is a lot of work to be done in parking.”
The second conversation was with members of a group from one of the largest manufacturers of parking equipment in Europe. They said that for them, too, the market has rebounded strong. “Deals that were put on hold are active again. With the exception of Spain, and Italy, Europe is booming, as is the Middle East, Australia and East Asia.”
Wow – that’s terrific news.
The EPA was extremely happy with its show this year. Comments from the vendors were that the IPI was slow, but the EPA was rocking. Good traffic, and high-quality attendees. I looked at the content of the EPA presentations. They were top of the line. That brings good people. Parking is coming back.
***
Things seem to sell better today if they are “green.” Not like Kermit, but environmentally sound. Cars, houses, toilet paper. We buy it because it’s “green” and therefore we are doing something for the environment.
Parking is moving that way, too. How many systems in your garage can be justified, wholly or partly, because they are green? Changing light bulbs to fluorescent? Using AVI at the entrance and exit so cars spend less time waiting and lowering the CO levels, thus also lowering the electricity costs for running fans? How ‘bout wiring the place so electrical vehicles can be charged?
Does the garage have photoelectric cells on the roof to generate power? How about a design so it’s cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter? Where was the steel bought – is it recycled? What about the concrete? Are there vines on the outside, trees surrounding, grass on the roof where the football team practices? Do you recycle the rain runoff?
Of course, all these things are great – and maybe they even help a bit. However, we are very conditioned to them, so we accept them on face value. Now we find out that cities and universities in particular are looking for green justification so the Feds will supply more money.
The thing to remember is that these are like those balloon toys: If you squeeze here, something pops out over there.
Electric cars are super, but you have to generate the electricity somewhere. Think of all the power plants we would need if 100 million cars had to be charged every night. Of course, the batteries that run them cause death and destruction in entire regions in China, but that’s OK since it’s over there and not here.
We replace incandescent bulbs with fluorescent, and then we have a disposal problem and need a hazmat suit if we break one of the cute little curly things. Of course, don’t even talk about the way your face looks in the mirror if you use those bulbs in your bathroom.
Ethanol has been an example of the push-pull balloon effect. We use corn to make it, and then poorer countries that eat corn starve because we take it off the market and the price goes sky high. Of course, we then find it takes more energy and creates more pollution to make a gallon of the stuff than we save when we burn it.
My problem is that “green” has become so political that we can’t make reasonable decisions about it. It is important, therefore we jump through hoops.
By the way, Parking Today is printed on recycled paper with vegetable inks, on recycled presses that are run by piezoelectric generators and delivered in pollution-free electric vehicles.
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Article Abstract from November, 2009




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