Tukwila Int'l Blvd. Station
Tukwila International Boulevard Station, by l0st2

Paid P&R parking is getting its nose under the tent at Sound Transit.

In its meeting last Thursday, the Operations and Administration Committee of the ST Board voted to recommend that the full Board approve a parking pilot program. The Board is expected to vote in favor at its Thursday meeting. The pilot is described in this draft board motion which was attached to the agenda for the committee meeting.

By far the most noteworthy component of the pilot program is paid parking permits, which would guarantee parking availability at high-demand P&R lots to permit holders, even if they arrive later in the morning. This is a first in the Puget Sound area. ST would initially reserve 20% of the spaces at the following four ST-operated P&R facilities for permit holders:

  • Tukwila International Boulevard Station
  • Issaquah Transit Center
  • Sumner Station
  • Mukilteo Station

This is fantastic news. Details below the jump.

Sound Transit is clear that, for now, this is a proof-of-concept rather than a method to generate meaningful revenue.  ST staff writes in the motion:

Permit fees will gauge the willingness of transit riders to ensure parking availability throughout the morning peak commute hours. . . Market-based pricing will not be tested during this pilot period. Fees charged for permits are based on coverage of anticipated costs . . . .

All four of these lots generally fill before the end of AM peak on weekdays, so demand for the permits is likely.  10% of the spaces at each lot would initially be allocated to HOV permit holders, and 10% would be allocated to SOV permit holders.  Fees would be nominal for both classes of permits — they are projected to be $5 quarterly for HOVs and $33 quarterly for SOVs.

With the low cost of the SOV permits — just 50 cents per workday — it is unclear what incentive will exist for drivers to acquire a less flexible HOV permit.  It is also unclear at this early point in the process how the HOV permits will be enforced.  [UPDATE:  Bruce Gray of ST has provided additional information about enforcement in the comments.  Permits will only be issued to holders of ORCA cards that are used 3x or more per week from the facility.  SOV permits will require one such ORCA card; HOV permits, two or more.  There will also be limited spot checks at the facility.  Thanks, Bruce.] Despite these details, it is great to see ST try some new P&R concepts, and help commuters realize that not every P&R space has to be free and that paying for P&R parking can bring real benefits.

Other components of the pilot program include real-time monitoring of high-demand P&R lots and various rideshare-management activities designed to improve the number of transit users per P&R space.

56 Replies to “Sound Transit Board to Vote Thursday on P&R Parking Permits”

  1. Unless there is an enforcement plan for HOV permit holders I would take the approach that splitting the cost of an SOV permit between 3 or 4 riders in one car takes care of the issue and no need to issue HOV permits. Especially helpful if HOV is defined as driver + 1 passenger.

  2. This is an excellent idea. I like the idea of testing the waters with permits, and gradually expanding to other P&Rs if this idea works. This could also be a way to address concerns in some jurisdictions where local residents could possibly be displaced by other commuters (i.e. Mercer Island P&R).

    1. Not enough is known yet to conclude that this will help in areas where the locals are displaced by other commuters. For example, if this expands to Mercer Island, will the MI residents have preference for those limited parking permits? Or will they be competing against other non-MI commuters just to obtain those permits? I agree with the posters below that ST should be studying what is done around the nation.

  3. It seems likely that this program will be immediately over-subscribed. I hope they have a mechanism to raise the rates to a market-clearing level rather than to give away as property right the right to a cheap guaranteed space to the early adopters.

  4. The fact that ST is testing the waters tells me they didn’t do their due diligence and study the various paid transit parking facilities around the nation, and simply pick the best and apply it here. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Why are they approaching paid parking like it’s uncharted territory?

    1. I tend to agree with Sam, but ST tip-toes over changes like this, just like their predecessor, Metro. Change at our transit agencies comes in very small steps. Glacially slow paced.
      I’m curious why the two tier HOV/SOV system in the same breath as: “Fees charged for permits are based on coverage of anticipated costs . . .”
      How can admin costs be any different? So clearly they are trying build a two tier system from the beginning, and not so much interested in just covering their cost on a pilot program?
      So the question is this.
      Will providing nearly free parking permits on the front end of the test hobble any meaningful effort to sell lots of permits at market clearing prices later on? I think they just shot themselves in the foot (or pussyfoot), by not doing exactly what Sam is advocating for – a well thought out program of charging market rates to amortize the high cost of parking at transit facilities based on Best Practices established nationwide.

    2. The best practice is, unfortunately, incompatible with the infrastructure in place.

      The best practice is to build transit stations with the primary consideration of getting transit vehicles through quickly, then punting the parking issue to the jurisdiction that should have ownership over land use decisions: city governments. In some locations the cities would do what ST/Metro have done: build big free parking lots. In some locations the cities would do something smarter: let other stuff be built close to the platforms and spread parking out within a few blocks.

      1. Some cities go half-and-half, particularly cities with a “good side” and a “bad side”, putting giant parking lots on one side of the station and buildings directly on the other side.

  5. Seattle has some HOV parking spaces on Western down by University/Seneca. Does anyone know how they enforce those?

    1. The City has quite a few HOV parking spaces. I’m not sure about how they are enforced. This primary note on the program’s website*:
      “The benefits from carpooling are seriously undermined when individuals misuse permits in order to take advantage of the parking discounts offered by this program. If you know of or suspect misuse of a carpool permit, please call Commuter Services at (206) 386-4648. The City will take appropriate action.”

      * http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/parking/carpool.htm

      1. I’m sure they enforce them like they enforce the “Motorcycle Only” violators. Vans, SUVs, and even Box trucks parked on multiple motorcycle/scooter spots. It happens frequently on the Hill and SLU. I love seeing how often Seattle PD tickets meter violators, yet fails to enforce other parking violations.

  6. I like the fact that the permits don’t expire at a certain time daily. The people who will use these permits will probably be commuters who travel on the back end of rush hour, or even later. They will appreciate the program since they have heretofore had trouble finding a parking spot.

    I do think the price is way too low, and will result in users who don’t need it all the time buying it because it is cheap, and then have those spots sit empty the rest of the time. Another problem with be Monday-through-Thursday commuters (just as an example) who will then not use the spot on Fridays, leaving empty spots.

    Also, will spots have to be kept empty on weekends in case the permit holder decide to use those spots those days?

    I can also see scalpers purchasing the permits, and then setting up daily to sell the spots when they spots start becoming scarce. At least that way, they won’t sit empty.

    Congratulations to David on your first staff post! You’ve even gotten a cameo appearance from Sam. Well done, sir.

    1. I do think the price is way too low, and will result in users who don’t need it all the time buying it because it is cheap, and then have those spots sit empty the rest of the time.

      Please see:

      Permits will only be issued to holders of ORCA cards that are used 3x or more per week from the facility.

      They might be underpriced, but ST will be enforcing “use it or lose it”.

    1. So, instead of charging $9 round trip to ride the train and $0 for parking, how about the reverse? $9 to park your car at the station, but once you’re there, make the train free. Then, put in a giant RPZ around the station to prevent people from parking for free on neighborhood streets.

      1. I’m not sure what difference it would make. Will people move to downtown Edmonds in droves for one an inflexibly-scheduled, mudslide-addled commuter rail service even if it’s free?

      2. For structured parking at lots served by buses it makes a hell of a lot more sense to charge for the parking and make the bus free since providing the parking costs more than providing the bus service. For Sounder that’s probably not quiet true but, as they say… close enough for government work :=

      3. “I’m not sure what difference it would make. Will people move to downtown Edmonds in droves…”

        The real question is, can people afford to move to the Edmonds bowl?

        Sound Transit originally planned to have a parking garage for the station, but ran afoul of the height limitations the city enforces.

        The Port of Edmonds just withdrew their application to develop the Harbor Square development into a mixed use/condo/office complex just because of issues with the city council on height restrictions. Would have fit the classic TOD definition,… unless the only people who could afford them are retired Microsoft Millionaires.

        Right now, about 20 cars use the overflow lot, so with the full compliment of leased spaces available, and the work planned to mitigate the mudslide issue, …

        maybe Edmonds will become the next candidate for pay parking.

        We’ll see.

  7. Couple quick points about enforcement: At the time of application- Permits will be associated with particular ORCA card numbers (not with individual cars). To apply for an SOV permit, one person will submit their ORCA number. To apply for an HOV permit, two or more people will submit their numbers. Once regular ridership from the permitted facility has been validated (3X/week/card) the permit will be issued. There will be one renewal during the pilot, and this information will be validated again in order to renew a permit.

    In the parking lot- Any car parked in permitted areas, but not displaying the proper permit will receive one written warning, followed by tows for subsequent violations.

    We don’t have the security resources to ensure that every car displaying an HOV permit delivered at least two people to the station every day, but we will be doing a lot of spot monitoring, as well as surveying riders, station agents and security guards to get an anecdotal snapshot of the extent to which HOV restrictions are being observed or abused.

    1. 3x per week is just high enough so that fooling the system by buying 2 Orca cards for yourself and alternating every other day is impractical. Then again, the price difference between HOV and SOV, at least today, is so small, I can’t imagine why anyone would go through the bother of trying to cheat in the first place.

    2. Thanks for clarifying, I was curious as to how many people it takes to make an HOV vs and SOV. I’m sure details are still being hammered out, but is the 3x a week usage of the ORCA card being taken only at time of permit issue or year round? I ask because I’m curious if there will be a way to report a lost ORCA card so that the permit can be updated or is that only at time of renewal?

  8. I think this will just push more people to park int he adjacent suburban neighborhoods and business parks ultimately. As someone else posted, this will be used by the commuters on the tail end of the commute. Instead of this why not just charge an increased $50 cent fee on express service which would reduce demand just enough that some people wouldnt take it. This will also cause overflow into other P&Rs. In issaquahs case, more will come to the highlands P&R combined with already high usage, new residences (albeit within walking distance), and a flood of retail parking in the area. This program will only be able to work at a handful of parking areas also and I don’t think these are the best ones to choose. Perhaps try the MI, South Bellevue, South Kirkland, and Overlake P&R’s. Tukwila is a good choice also.

    However I like that only a limited number will be distributed.

    1. Charging more for bus service should be related to the cost of the bus service, not the capacity of the P&Rs along it. If the P&R capacity is constrained then the most logical response is to change the incentives to use the P&R… that is, by charging for it.

      There’s no reason a program like this, once the initial kinks are ironed out, couldn’t work at every P&R with capacity issues. People move to P&Rs without capacity issues? Great! That’s a good result. People move into neighborhood streets? If that interferes with local residents or businesses, start a residential zone permit program or add meters.

      1. I agree and disagree with your assessment about P&R capacity and charging. P&R usage is directly related to the bus routes that service it. Since P&R’s are inherently suburban in nature, and routes from these P&R’s to central business areas where parking costs and traffic are disincentives to driving, these routes should command a premium for peak express service. Although there is already a peak surcharge, why not increase it for peak express buses rather than charge for Parking at the P&R. It should have a similar effect. In busy areas, charging for parking at a P&R may induce more offsite parking in neighborhoods. A zone program is fine, but enforcing it costs more than it is probably worth. I think most people will feel that a fare premium for premium express service is justified over a premium for parking that already exists.

      2. If neighborhood residents don’t like commuters parking in their neighborhoods they can probably convince their city council to impose a residency-based permit parking restriction in their neighborhood or ban street parking on weekdays during the day. I grew up near a high school, and my neighborhood did the latter. A few residents let students they trusted park in their driveways, sometimes for pay.

        Regardless of whether the parking is “already there”, if it’s a limited resource charging for it will encourage more efficient usage.

    2. I think this will just push more people to park int he adjacent suburban neighborhoods and business parks ultimately

      Since this is being implemented at only over-capacity facilities, what makes you think that isn’t happening already? If it inconveniences locals, they can restrict their street parking and/or police their private lots.

  9. “…which would guarantee parking availability at high-demand P&R lots to permit holders, even if they arrive later in the morning…”

    “…ST would initially reserve 20% of the spaces at the following…”

    What would happen if many commuters bought the permit, and filled up the 20% of reserved space? (I assume that the remaining 80% is already full)

    Since they are all “guaranteed” a space, then I guess they get to take their car on the light rail :-)

      1. Nope, first come first served, just like the free parking.

        But if there’s overwhelming demand they’ll probably expand the carpool permits first.

  10. If permit demand exceeds capacity, are the permits given out first come first serve or is it a drawing? I assume people need to re-sign up each quarter.

    Seems like a pain for administration for someone to verify cards are being used enough to qualify, but it’s nice that they’d check.

    I’d like to see them set aside more than 20% of the spots for permit holders and possibly charge a little more for the permits to fully cover the administrative costs.

    1. Seems like a pain for administration for someone to verify cards are being used enough to qualify, but it’s nice that they’d check.

      Naah, that’s trivially automated. For administration it can be a one-click job.

  11. What happens when one of these permit holders decides to drive to work one day, or stays home sick, or takes a vacation for a week?

    Under the status quo, all the spaces are filled and the people who drive there pay bus fares. With the new permit system, some spaces will remain empty. This reduces the effective capacity of the parking lot. Where the parking lot becomes smaller, ridership likely follows. Meanwhile Sound Transit is not receiving a meaningful amount of revenue from their parking lot.

    What problem is this system trying to solve?

      1. “They could do what NJ Transit does at their train stations … after 10AM the spaces become available for daily parkers.”

        According to the staff report for the motion, that’s precisely what they intend to do:

        Permit-only spaces would be enforced during
        morning peak hours and revert to general parking mid-morning.

      2. Allowing general parking after a certain time is better than reserving an empty spot all day. Still, there’s a chance that nobody will show up to use the bus after that “mid-morning” time when the empty reserved spots revert to general use. In that case you still end up with a situation where a lot that currently fills up will not fill up under the new system.

        So again I ask, how is this better than the current system? What problem does it solve? What public interest is served by giving a limited number of regular users priority over everyone else, especially when Sound Transit doesn’t intend to charge more for the permits than they will spend on administering the program?

        I support charging market rates for parking where lots often fill up, as an alternative to building more expensive parking lots at a loss. At the same time, I understand arguments that new transit lines will not catch on in the suburbs if free parking is not present. Acknowledging both of these viewpoints, I simply don’t understand how a revenue-neutral parking pass program can possibly make our transportation system better in any way.

      3. Eric, I doubt ST intends that the program will remain revenue-neutral once past the pilot phase.

      4. San Francisco sorted this out a year or two ago. Parking spots reserved via an app on your smart phone. More revenue for transit and higher usage. Turns out, duh, reliability is one of the top criteria when people are trying to get to work. Being assured you can actually “Park” and ride is key. It was a win win.

    1. What problem is this system trying to solve?

      The problem of what time the lots fill.

      Under the current system, spaces are available for early bird commuters, but not for peak-of-peak commuters (at least at these chosen P&R’s). They fill up before the peak is over.

      If this pilot program works as intended, early-bird commuters can still show up and grab a space as they do now, while late-peak commuters can purchase a permit guaranteeing them a space.

      1. So what’s the difference? A rider is a rider is a rider is …
        Now, if the late arriving rider is willing to pay a premium to guarantee a parking spot, then let the auctions begin.

      2. “So what’s the difference?”

        Early bird commuters don’t help cut down on congestion as much. Reserving spots for later in the commute, in theory, will help ease peak rush hour traffic. (More likely, it will simply give commuters a reliable option to avoid peak congestion)

        This pilot feels too complicated but at least they are trying.

      3. The problem of what time the lots fill.

        If you really want your park-and-ride riders to be peak commute hour riders, simply close off the lot until just before the peak starts. Give parking tickets to anyone there before 7, or whatever time it is that the freeways start to clog.

        Under the new pilot program, 80% of the spaces will still be first-come-first-served, but they will fill up even sooner because there will be 20% fewer of them. So at most you’ll get 20% of the park-and-ride capacity riding at the peak time. This number will be reduced by whatever fraction of the permit holders also commute before peak, and will be further reduced by the fraction of permit holders who don’t ride transit each day (since their spots will not be released to general use until after peak hours).

        Generally a “pilot program” is a small test of something you want to expand in the future. If they want to expand the program by issuing the same type of revenue-neutral permits on a larger scale, I think that’s a pretty silly idea for the reasons I’ve already laid out. If they just want to run this as a test to see if any permits will sell, with the intention of auctioning them off in the future to bring in more revenue, I’m all for it.

      4. “Early bird commuters don’t help cut down on congestion as much. Reserving spots for later in the commute, in theory, will help ease peak rush hour traffic. ”

        That may be true for the morning commute, but not necessarily the evening commute. Different people work different lengths of time and some may get dinner, etc. after work before heading home.

        Both early and late riders in the morning could easily be peak-of-the-peak commuters in the afternoon. And, from a congestion standpoint, traffic is generally worse everywhere in the evening rush hour than it is in the morning, as it combines people going home from work with people doing shopping and entertainment in the evening.

      5. Bellevue P&R would have been a better choice than Issaquah. Sure Issaquah is full by a certain time, but Bellevue is often over 100% full, to the tune of almost 110%.

      6. S. Bellevue P&R isn’t an ST operated facility, so they couldn’t do the trial there.

    1. It is. There is way more demand than capacity. My uninformed speculation is that it is not part of this pilot program because the issue of nonresidents parking on the island is so touchy (on both sides). There would be controversy whether or not permits were restricted to residents. That would just be a distraction from the permit program itself, which is intended to focus on the permit scheme.

      1. I suspect that’s part of things — there’s a significant amount of angst on MI about the (somewhat) interrelated issues of the impending loss of use of the I-90 center lanes, I-90 tolling, and lack of parking (for islanders) at the P&R.

        That said, South Bellevue [which is at least as bad as MI] isn’t included either, so this may be 550/East Link related too.

  12. I agree with making transit to downtown as expensive as possible as it will hasten the relocation of businesses and jobs to the cleaner, lower cost suburbs and rural areas.

    1. Actually it won’t, John, because the kind of jobs that are attracted to downtown — law, banking, and international trade — are so valuable that they’ll continue to cluster there pretty much no matter what the cost. I don’t know if you’ve noticed that nearly all the employment oriented construction in King County is in downtown Seattle, downtown Bellevue and Overlake, except retail of course but that’s hardly the sort of “employment” to set one’s heart aflutter.

      The mindless, automated back-office jobs may well move to the ‘burbs, because that’s where the people who fill them live. If only they were smart enough to live in the part of suburbia surrounding their workplace it would be a great system: a short commute on relatively un-congested roads. But by and large they’re not.

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