Sound Transit

Sightline’s Jerrell Whitehead has a thorough and well-researched post up about Sound Transit’s pilot program to maximize parking spots at park-and-rides via user fees, real-time space information, and ride-sharing.  If you’re at all interested in the subject you should read the whole thing, as they say.

There’s an undeniable economist’s appeal to using price as a way to rationalize demand for a scarce resource like parking, and charging money for spots is absolutely the right thing to do.  Until there’s a culture of paid parking in the suburbs, however, Sound Transit’s going to face an uphill political fight with one of its core constituencies.

That said, the way this pilot was done seems to strike the right balance: charge for some spots, but not all, and give preferential treatment to carpoolers.  Oh, and if ST really wants to boost ridership, it should find ways to develop more housing and offices near existing park-and-ride facilities.

66 Replies to “Managing Demand at Park-and-Rides”

  1. Thanks for the pointer – and my namesake DOES write a nice piece. A numbers guy can’t help but add a couple of calculations about the value of a P&R space. (1) Parking downtown – roughly $20/day. (2) Revenue requirement to “break even” on the investment to build a $40K parking space – assume 3% real rate of return (standard for cost-benefit analysis), 2% inflation, 30-year lifetime, and ignore operations/maintenance costs. 250 biz days a year.
    (Or use the house price = 15 x annual rent breakeven for houses that is mentioned here – results are about the same)

    Answer: $10/day. . OK, so this number may be too high or (more likely) too low by a factor of 2. Either way, for an SOV parker in a free space, this amounts to a subsidy substantially higher than the full-price bus fare.

    P&R cost for “the other Metro” in DC runs about $5/day.

    1. Somewhere around $10 per day is still below (although not far) the point at which I’d have to consider just driving into town).

  2. I find it weird that Metro is getting rid of direct Seattle service to the south Federal Way park and ride. They say it’s because of service hours, but it’s only about a mile more on I-5, and a half a mile more on S. 348th St. Given that the Federal Way transit center and 320th st. P&R are pretty packed as is, I think this is a time where ridership needs to follow the transit service, rather than transit service following the ridership. Maybe Sound Transit can give the 577/578 a stop there (the 578 in fact already almost goes there on the way to Auburn). If the south Federal Way park and ride gets service like the south Renton park and ride, the parking situation at downtown Federal Way transit parking locations would be a lot better.


      Actually, KCM’s surface lot usage in Federal way is pretty low. 320th St P&R is the highest at 45% full, the other two lots, South Federal Way 36% and Twin Lakes at 14%. Redondo Heights has a staggering 8% usage rate. Metro has obviously overbuilt for shrinking service levels.

      Kent/James Street has 27% usage (I think it would make a great satellite lot if a shuttle to Kent Station was provided).

      Personally, also I think the 574 577 and 578 should be re-routed to serve the 320th St P&R, with the 578 making additional stops at K-D road and Star Lake, much like the old 194. While the buses are comfortably full as it is, It would help provide a good mid-day/evening return to riders wishing to do so, and hopefully free up some spots at FWTC as people could than park closer to home instead of having to go to FWTC.

      Hopefully with Metro and ST working together they will start breaking down these silo’s and make more efficient use of everyone’s facilities.

      1. I see only the 577 as a candidate as the deviation would add time to the other routes (577 terminates in federal way). But I do like that idea. It’s feasible I think.

      2. My thought is with the 578 and to some extent the 577 providing the off peak “return” service to the parking lots, something that is not easily done (currently the link to 574 connection).

      3. Ok. It’s interesting that the 320th St. P&R is only 45% full. In the service reduction plan, though they are doubling down on service to that park and ride. That makes sense. I just have to wonder how much of a burden it would be to keep a 178 like structure now, given that it’s just another hop on I-5 from downtown FW. Especially since they are getting rid of the extra peak trips on route 182. The south FW lot is still a third full, and I’m guessing that many of those riders won’t be too keen on driving to the lot, then going a round trip transferring between a bus that runs once an hour and an express to Seattle.

      4. The thing about only either modifying the 577 or the 578 is that they are not really suited to be separated like that. They are essentially the same route, one is just longer. In the weekdays, all trips are 578, except in the peak when the sounder is running, when all trips are 577, because the sounder takes care of auburn, Sumner, and Puyallup. In the weekend, they alternate, so Federal Way gets a bus every half hour each way, and Auburn/Sumner/Puyallup gets a bus hourly each way, all day. If we unilaterally change all 577 trips only, that would only affect peak trips on weekdays, and half of the trips on the weekends, which is just weird.

      5. I can see the peak hr/direction 577s skipping kd road and star lake since metro will be providing service there. Off peak/direction however would probally see the 577 and 578 making those two stops. 320th st pr would be a full time stop on both routes. Of course on weekends there is little need for stopping at 320th so that could probally be omitted to save time.

  3. So they’re introducing information about parking availability! Yay! Oh, wait, they’re doing it on phones.

    Because even though it’s dangerous and illegal to browse your phone while driving, it’s apparently cheaper to build an app than an information sign that’s designed to be read safely by people driving.

    1. If only it could sync with Google Now or some other automated program. Your phone might automatically know how many spaces are (or aren’t) available and give you directions to another park and ride if no spots are available at your preferred one.

      I agree, investing in signs would be nice. But from this perspective, preventing folks from driving all the way there and then driving elsewhere is also a great goal too!

      1. So they’re introducing information about parking availability! Yay! Oh, wait, they’re doing it on phones.

        Because even though it’s dangerous and illegal to browse your phone while driving, it’s apparently cheaper to build an app than an information sign that’s designed to be read safely by people driving.

        The perrels of multitasking while behind the wheel – sarcasm alert. An ap might be useful if done right, but overhead signage is also nessessary as to prevent distracted driving.

        If only it could sync with Google Now or some other automated program. Your phone might automatically know how many spaces are (or aren’t) available and give you directions to another park and ride if no spots are available at your preferred one.

        I agree, investing in signs would be nice. But from this perspective, preventing folks from driving all the way there and then driving elsewhere is also a great goal too
        Agreed. Both ideas don’t need to be mutually exclusive – rather they should work together to move people to the most effective points for transit connections.

      2. Alicia, it worries me to have so many necessary functions outsourced. As a longtime public employee I’m proud of my skill and the good qualities of my fellow workers.

        So I’ve always had a hard time with the automatic assumption that government agencies will always be so hopelessly stupid about just about every real world problem that private corporations, answerable to shareholders, serve better than agencies we all own.

        “If you want anything done right, do it yourself” is usually spoken with a creaky old hayseed accent. For a modern listener, add this: if you or your government can’t get it right- LEARN!
        Even if preceded by “Like Duuuuh.”

        BTW, really transit related…Photoshop a Metro uniform under than wonderful expression, and you’ll have a job driving or supervising first line based on first impression at interview. It usually takes ten years full time on trolleys to perfect that expression.

        Mark Dublin

    2. Parking availability is something we shouldn’t have to worry about. Price spaces so that there’s almost always a few empty. Those that don’t want to pay that price will make other choices before they leave the house, without having to check their phones.

      This happens right now downtown. I know street parking for more than a few hours is usually more expensive than a garage, and I know garages are more expensive in some parts of downtown than others. If I know I’m going to be downtown for a while, it’ll cost me $15+, so I seriously consider transit even if it’s inconvenient. If I do need to drive and don’t want to pay that price, I’ll consider parking further away where it’s cheaper and walking or take a bus.

      1. Availability info can help prevent useless circling when it’s presented at the right place. I’ve seen this, for example, in Erlangen, Germany, where signs along major streets approaching a big Siemens office indicate how many parking spaces are left in various garages.

        Where there are really close P&Rs (e.g. South Renton and the Fred Meyer and City View Church lots that allow P&R use), or places where parking is split across the two sides of a street (e.g. TIBS), parking availability info that helps people avoid turning into the most attractive lot when it’s full is a good idea. In these cases, pricing might be set such that there are usually spaces available in at least one of the lots, but the most attractive one might fill up more quickly.

      2. Matt, hand in hand with pricing for efficiency is disseminating information about where to obtain that available stock.

      1. As long as your phone is mounted in your car. I’ve been in lots of cars with people using phones and practically none of them have had mounts.

      2. I stick mine in the cup holder in the center console.

        Then I use a sub-mini jack to plug the sound into the aux port so I can hear it clearly.

  4. Curious – if there is a parking fee at a P&R or at a transit center, shouldn’t the price include the transit fare? All Sound Transit needs to do is put ORCA readers at the entrances as WMATA does at it’s parking facilities. It would expand ORCA coverage in a snap.

    1. + monthly pass cubed, SEAN. Everything related to transit regionwide should be automatically included in a single easily purchased pass- daily, weekly, monthly or yearly. Eliminating loperating time lost in conversations and arguments between passengers and drivers- the more complex the arrangement, the worse the blockage, added to time finding and counting change- will pay back any revenue shortfall if there is any.

      Even more time saved if coffee and newspapers other than the Seattle Times go on the card too. Even better all card transactions could be “apped” into a phone. Just so screen screeched and flashed red if passenger was about to text their way in front of a LINK train.


      1. Hey, what ever works. That’s what smartcard payments are all about – making the transit system as user friendly as possible ! If you could use ORCA in Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods Market for payment, now you got something.

      1. I’ve made comments in effect on on this very topic on another blog that is similar to this one in NYC. The issue semes to be the lack of willingness of the banking industry to move foward on a national level for such a comprehensive & robust system for such payments.

        As it turns out, there maybe another way to go. If you ever have used store or mall gift cards, they most likely came from a company called “Blackhawk.” They not only produce the actual cards, but they do payments as well. Both Simon & Macerich large mall opperators as well as CVS & others sell cards from display kiosks.

      2. From what I have read, the card processing services have decided that the industry should head that direction anyway.

    2. Some car pools meet at the P&R. So maybe you could have a choice–parking and transit fare or just parking.

    3. If you’re going to give “transfer credit” for parking in the lot, the parking fee had better be substantially higher than the transit fare. Otherwise, a $2.75 parking fee which includes transfer credit is no different than free parking with a $2.75 transit fare.

      There’s also the question of what to do about passes. If a standard monthly transit pass includes parking, again, you’re back to the situation of free parking, but with a bunch of extra administrative overhead.

      1. I’m not totally convinced the parking-bus transfer idea makes any sense… but if priced above the transit ride it would require the purchase of a higher-valued pass.

  5. While I appreciate the need to charge for parking at park-and-rides, when the price to ride transit to downtown reaches the price to just go ahead and drive/park downtown, I’m going to choose the latter. If I’m by myself, it is usually cheaper to take transit. But, when you’re talking about a group of three or more people, than it is almost cheaper–and usually more convenient–to go ahead and drive and park. My friends and family don’t mind walking a bit, so instead of expensive parking right in the heart of downtown, we find a garage or parking lot on the fringe and then walk a few blocks.

    1. Replace “charge for parking at park-and-rides” with bus fare, and you pretty much match the sentiment of many a bus rider. So, you are basically saying that buses shouldn’t charge anything? Really?

      In your case, I guess I don’t see the big problem. Four people in a car is not such a bad thing. Some might consider it a huge success, which is why HOV lanes are usually two person. In other words, if you and your friends want to ride together downtown, park on the outskirts, and then walk into town — go for it! You will probably not cost the state any money, or hurt the environment much at all over taking the train. There is a reason why they have HOV lanes, after all.

      1. Ross,

        I agree. It looks like Cinesea is doing the “rational” thing and really not hurting anybody or anything. It works like that for me as well. If I’m schlepping around little Vancouver USA or heading over to Portland by myself, I ride the bus nearly all the time. But if my wife and I are going to a play or the symphony, we drive because it is cheaper and evening parking is pretty available for not much money.

        That and that the Clark County connections to Portland stink after 7:30 PM. It takes three vehicles to get to our Transit Center from downtown Ptld. And they aren’t a marvel of synchronized transfers.

    2. And that makes perfect sense! Sound Transit is looking at rates of less than $1/day. Parking in downtown Seattle costs $10-$20/day. If your employer subsidizes your bus pass, then the bus will probably be cheaper. But if you can get 3 people together to go in on a downtown spot, then go for it. It still takes a few cars off the road and makes better use of the HOV lanes.

  6. These discussions about paid parking irk me.

    First they ask us to centralize in very costly downtown real estate.

    Then they ask us to give up our cars and use trains.

    Then when we use the trains they say, oh, now you have to pay for parking in addition to the train fare.

    At what point does blood boil and we scrap the whole system of centralized control and let people work, live and shop wherever they want with the high mobility of cars!

    1. Your wish is granted. You can work, live, and shop wherever you want thanks to the magic of cars! But don’t expect us to pay for your high-priced garage.

      I believe you bike – surely you can reach a bus stop or train station with your bike if you don’t want to pay to park. You might even be able to walk to a bus stop from your home. If not, and you don’t want to pay for this wonderfully free car lifestyle, I recommend you move close to transit.

    2. John,

      I believe that the system you describe — “let[ting] people work, live and shop wherever they want with the high mobility of cars!” — is the default system for the United States. There are roughly 3,200 miles to the east of you, a a hundred and fifty to the west and north and 1,200 to the south. You can go as far as you wish to shop and work at any location in those cardinal directions, or at any heading between and no one will stop you.

      Have you ever asked yourself how many people in total work in all of those big tall buildings in downtown Seattle? And then have you asked yourself, “Self, I wonder how long the queue of cars taking people to all those big tall buildings in downtown Seattle would be if there were no buses and trains.” Since transit’s “mode split” in the Seattle CBD is above 40% suffice it to say that traffic — as bad as it definitely is in Seattle any given day in summer 2014 — would break down disastrously. Many people would get to work just in time to go home which would be a very good think because there would be no where to park their cars.

      People want to live in and around Seattle for any number of reasons: the climate, the beauty, the opportunities, it’s a Blue city. They’re willing to pay for the privilege, and that is how a free-market economy works. Those who want an amenity — in this case, “The Seattle Lifestyle” — are in direct buyer competition with millions of other people who also want that amenity.

      It drives up the price.

      What I don’t understand is that you constantly urge other people to discover the “Next Seattle” and have recommended Tri-Cities as the Next Big Thing. Yet you linger on East Hill. Either you have a very strong attachment to local family members, but your childhood in Brooklyn kind of nixes that idea or you want other people to leave so you have fewer people competing with you for the amenity known as The Seattle Lifestyle.

      Which, dis it though you may, you must like because you’re here and there’s no indication that you work in one of the fields which comprise Seattle’s centers of excellence.

      1. I take it you didn’t see the urbanist special forces squad descend on John’s East Hill apartment to force him to give up his car and live in a Capitol Hill apodment.

      2. The centralization of transit is a directive. Left to its own devices, business expands outward, to the lowest cost areas.

      3. “Left to its own devices, business expands outward, to the lowest cost areas.”

        If that were true Enid, Oklahoma would be a buzzing hive of business activity. Since the dawn of civilization people interested in doing the same thing have flocked together in part to learn from one another and in part to steal each others’ customers.

    3. Hey John, do you think transit should be free? It is a reasonable suggestion. After all, I know plenty of people who ride the bus from time to time and it really hits their wallet hard. But I don’t remember you getting upset about it, so I have to ask — should bus fare be free? How about train fare?

      1. What I worry about is the creeping Marxism of a centralized state. (Washington may in fact, be too far gone by now.) Like a drug dealer giving us heavier stuff, each turn of the crank becomes its own justification and ends up with higher taxes, and less choice.

      2. Which is the perfect argument for abandoning the gas tax, and instituting a purely market-driven auto-based transportation system:

        TOLL ROADS !!

  7. In all of the discussion about park-and-ride, it’s rarely pointed out that park-and-ride adds to ridership to enable us to have higher frequency transit routes and/or reduce operating subsidies. We all benefit from having more riders on the existing transit system until it gets too overcrowded. It’s good to realize that park-and-ride has to be managed, rather than summarily dismissed. It’s not all “bad”. Further, providing park-and-ride broadens the number of people likely to vote for a transit project because they perceive that they will more likely use the improved service.

    I’d also point out that nearby free parking — especially on side streets — impacts park-and-ride usage. People may pay a dollar or two for nearby parking, but they may walk the extra 4 blocks from a free on-street space if the lot charges are $10.

    1. The comment was not intended to dismiss p&r or subsidies. But something to think about – is it better to spend $10 to persuade someone to take 2 bus rides, or to spend it directly on increased frequency?

    2. That was the original reason for P&Rs — to entice people to take transit most of the way. And also because many residential areas don’t have any bus within walking distance. Those reasons have not disappeared but they now have to compete with the success of P&Rs: they’re full, they’re expensive to expand, and they give a huge subsidy to suburban drivers that city residents don’t get, at a time when city routes are bursting at the seams and infrequency is driving potential riders away.

    3. I think it’s important to note that park-and-ride lots are also popular with HOV users, which don’t use transit at all. It probably is good to have some “bar” for users to jump to make sure that transit riders get preference over spaces at certain transit-oriented locations.

    4. A P&R of 1,000 spaces adds 1,000 riders during the peak period peak direction, but almost nothing off-peak or in the reverse direction.

    5. And? That’s the definition of suburbia. Low-density housing that can’t support local buses on every street, and people going elsewhere to work, and few people coming into the area en mass. The P&Rs didn’t create that situation; they’re just one way of responding to it. Maybe a good way, maybe a bad way, but a way. Without the P&Rs, what do you do instead? Either run peak expresses to residential neighborhoods, which is what we were trying to get away from with the P&Rs. Or run local buses on every neighborhood street, which is even more expensive. Or not have any bus service at all; but that creates a generation of die-hard anti-transit foks, and traps those who don’t have cars or can’t drive.

  8. The great thing about charging for parking is that it automatically provides incentives for carpooling.

  9. So a few thoughts on why suburbanites don’t want paid parking. At least some of them. I do because finding parking at Auburn is impossible, but anyones the point is…

    Their employer gives them an unlimited ORCA, but to park at/near work they would have to pay $85-150/month plus all the fuel, wear-and-tear, and traffic. So to them, paying for parking takes what was basically a free commute and makes them have to pay for it. Thus the butt hurt feelings.

  10. For the hypothetical who would drive into downtown itself rather than pay 10$ at a P&R, how would they deal with the traffic? I find getting past or even worse into downtown a nightmare. I’m not sure if I’m simply too inexperienced to know how to avoid the worst parts or if everyone else is just cool with chillin in their cars for an extra hour. The busses at least seem to have a developed an effective system to get in and out with only moderate pain.

  11. Hey, John, Toyota, being interested in your exact question, put driver’s blood temperature gauges on the early model Prius, like mine. Took them off a year later because so many of them destroyed the car’s whole computer when they blew out.

    Some research revealed a very high correlation between this phenomenon and the exact moment when the motorist suddenly realized that he was hopelessly trapped on a freeway jammed by the fact that freedom from centralization had now resulted in his total inability to move because a huge continent’s entire square mileage was full of cars.

    Luckily, I left my gauge connected, but I never let it get to the point where the indicator starts to screech. Or I do. A click over “warm” and an app-map signals location of either transit or a non-Starbucks’ cafe. It doesn’t take very much suburban driving before more motorists every day that it isn’t just ISIS that hates our freedom.

    But it will be both revenge on them and liberty for us if events elsewhere put gas prices at what gas costs. And also, if the Feds don’t rebuild the highways the Feds tyrannically built, and let the suburbs enjoy a truly free market. A lot of freeways will be converted to rail, and a lot of malls reforested.

    And then, finally, your car will at last have the freedom to move at all.


    1. Mark Dublin has a car? And he still often takes buses two hours each way from Olympia to Seattle? Or even three hours each way from Olympia to Everett?

      1. I guess what surprises me is that people usually buy Priuses to drive a lot without using a lot of gas, yet you have a Prius and don’t drive it a lot. (And presumably paid a large premium to buy it over a regular car.) My coworker has a Prius but he drives it everywhere, including from north Lynnwood to north Seattle for work.

  12. If you are looking for free parking, downtown suburbs or even exurbs may not be your best bet. Even Silverton, Oregon charges for downtown parking. Granted, in Silverton many of the spots are guarded by old fashioned mechanical meters and only charge $0.05 per hour, but they still charge.

    The reason they charge even this tiny token amount is that it helps prevent parking space hogs that will otherwise have their car there for days on end.

    How carefully is the 24 hour limit currently enforced?

    I’m thinking that maybe the first thing that should be charged is anyone parked there over a day, and make that charge similar to airport parking.

  13. I think the article is interesting, but I think it misses the bigger picture. To put it simply, we charge for transit service, why shouldn’t we charge for Park and Ride service? Should it be free to ride a bus? How about riding a train? There would be a lot of advantages. After all, it would make riding a lot faster and easier. But study after study has shown that it doesn’t pay for itself. In other words, the money raised by bus fares contributes significantly to service. So, why should park and ride lots be different? Shouldn’t we pay market rates (or close to it)? Why are we subsidizing bus fare so little, and parking so much? Is it because of the poor (as John Bailo) has suggested? I don’t think so. The truly poor ride a bus (even if it a bus to the train station). Is it because we want to increase ridership? No, getting rid of bus fare would increase ridership a lot more. The main reason we don’t charge for park and rides is because we haven’t charged for park and rides in the past. Sorry, but that is a stupid reason not to charge for it now.

    1. In the suburbanites’ view, free parking is a basic part of any facility, the way a supermarket has display racks and doors and windows. How can people use the facility if they can’t park there? Why would they want to use it if they can’t park there easily and cheaply?

    2. What Mike said. In the suburbs, you go somewhere in your car, and there’s a massive lot there, and it’s free. It’s just how it works. ST can’t take all that cultural change on the chin.

      Here’s the thing, though – suburban communities (see Mercer Island) are generally opposed to expanding P&Rs as well. If they were demanding bigger P&R garages AND opposing fees, that would be one thing. But they appear to hate fees AND they hate big parking garages. So the status quo seems to be working for them.

      1. Suburban communities are opposed to expanding some P&Rs. In Mercer Island and Puyallup it’s about businesses in the town center not wanting the streets to be overrun with P&R traffic, or wanting the city to provide parking for businesses, not ST for commuters.

        And there are some residential neighborhoods with similar (but differently-voiced) complaints about P&R-related traffic… IIRC there’s been some of that in Shoreline. A case can certainly be made that giant parking garages, especially ones that draw heavy peak-hour traffic, belong neither in the town center nor in residential neighborhoods.

        But when it comes to big parking garages out by freeway interchanges where they belong, is there really general opposition?

    3. Is Mercer Island typical? Are people in Federal Way, South Bellevue, Eastgate, Lynnwood, Shoreline, etc also opposed to expanding their P&Rs? There’s an ambiguous case in Puyallup or Auburn, where I think the city wants more parking but not in the city center where the existing P&R is. But everywhere else, isn’t it “Bigger P&Rs, all the way!”

  14. My opinion of P&Rs changed somewhat after starting to see the true cost of operating them. Sure it costs money to build, but even more so, it costs a lot of money to maintain and secure the facilities. There are electric bills to be paid, custodial services, Parking lot sweeping and cleaning services, and general maintenance and upkeep to be performed on the facility to keep the investment sound for years to come. When you add an appropriate level of security, that totals up to a significant yearly investment.

    Charging motorists, a nominal $2-4 a day to park in P&R lot that is not just simply a surface lot is a fair and reasonable price in my opinion. Surface parking lots, and P&R lots that do not have full-time security should charge less obviously, however it would be a good tactic to use to be able to afford on-site security. I am fine with the public footing the capital investment, however I think charging the users a reasonable fee for use of the facility is fair and justified.

    And finally, speaking of security, after having my prior car broken into twice in a month and a half at the surface S. Hill P&R lot, I will never park there again, and I think by adding parking “gates” much like they have at the airport where you grab a ticket on the way in, and pay on the way out would help discourage people driving around the P&R looking for vehicles of opportunity. So just by charging for parking you would be discouraging vandalism. Vandals are not going to pay $2 to find their next target vehicle. Also, with modern parking systems it would be nice to have a smart phone app, and signs near the P&R indicating how many spaces are available so people can plan where they will park and how they will use the service.

  15. Here’s the thing: Park and Rides, like all parking lots, cost money to build and operate. The question comes down to who should pay for them. Should the general taxpayer fund free parking spots for transit users, or should those users pay for the spaces? We’re talking somewhere in the ballpark of $20,000 per space in a parking structure, just for construction.

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