Over at the Stranger’s article about the end of the Ride Free Area, commenter antidamon makes a great point:
If we are going to take the Free Ride Zone away from the urban poor then I think it’s time to take Free Parking away from the Suburban Commuters. Why in the world are we giving away free parking spaces? It makes no sense to be shutting down lines and reducing services while at the same time people are parking for free! End Free Parking!!
In theory, the reason that we’ve spent millions of dollars on free parking at park-and-rides is to lure suburban commuters to take the bus. Yet Metro is willing to lose millions of rides per year by ending the Ride Free Area.
I’d argue that in addition to boosting ridership, free park-and-rides encourage people to live in sparse, sprawling locations. These locations are generally car-dependent, and add many miles of car trips to school, shopping, etc. Without free park-and-rides there’s a greater incentive to live in an area with good bus service within walking distance, and this fundamentally means a more dense environment. In contrast, the Ride Free Area encouraged people to travel around downtown Seattle which indirectly encouraged businesses to locate downtown. This tended to increase business and residential density as well as transit use.