BART station in Concord. (Photo courtesy of BART)

The price of parking at BART stations may go up next year as part of a shift to variable pricing based on demand, district staff said during a presentation to the Board of Directors in Oakland on Oct. 10.

Updating the district’s parking policies will also allow passengers to take advantage of modern payment methods through the expanded use of smartphone apps.

Drivers using those apps will also benefit from increased access to information about which stations still have parking spaces open on any given day to help spread demand to stations that have greater availability.

“For all of the parking programs we’re looking to improve the customer experience,” said Bob Franklin, department manager for customer access and accessibility.

“We’re making it convenient for people to pay, we’re also simplifying where they go to pay for a parking permit,” Franklin said.

The agency’s parking policies were last modified in 2013. There’s a $3 cap on daily parking fees, which applies at every station other than West Oakland, but that could go up.

Franklin said BART parking is underpriced in many areas compared to commercial parking lots operating near stations or the round-trip cost that commuters incur when leaving personal vehicles at home and taking a bus.

“Taking a round-trip bus is more expensive than parking, so right now there is no incentive to take the bus,” Franklin said.

Several directors expressed support for raising parking rates to reflect increased demand, although there was some dissent from others who would prefer to offer parking at the lowest price possible.

“It’s unacceptable that our parking be cheaper than taking a bus,” said Director Rebecca Saltzman. “We need to figure out a way to level that out.”

“I disagree with market-based parking,” countered Director John McPartland. “I don’t work for BART, I work for the public, and I’m not in the business of gouging the public.

“My goal would be giving it to them cost-neutral, whatever it costs to maintain it,” McPartland said.

Director Mark Foley opposed the idea of changing prices to change parking behaviors, but he also advocated for working with other transit agencies to improve access to BART stations by bus before any changes take place.

“There needs to be infrastructure in place before we change our pricing,” Foley said. “We need to have an alternative because otherwise we’re gouging our customers.”

He also floated the possibility of hiring parking experts to consult with in an effort to find an “elegant solution” to the challenge presented when some parking facilities fill up to capacity while other are mostly empty.

The parking policy presentation was just an informational item, meaning that the board took no official action other than expressing their support for some ideas and reluctance to others.

Before any policy update can be considered, the district will have to conduct a Title VI study to ensure that potential changes would not exclude anyone from using BART on the basis of demographics like race, color or national origin, as the transit district receives federal funding and is subject to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.