South Bellevue Park & Ride
South Bellevue Park & Ride

Whether you think of park and ride lots as a necessary service for suburban transit or a sprawl-inducing evil, we can hopefully agree that maximizing utilization of existing parking capacity near transit is a good thing.

With that idea in mind, WSDOT conducted an interesting evaluation of park and rides (via KIRO). They visited 17 lots in the Seattle region and interviewed riders. The results won’t surprise you: Most lots are full by 8am, almost everyone drives alone to get there, and almost everyone is going to work.

There were some interesting bits in the rider survey however:  46% of respondents were willing to pay for a “guaranteed” spot at the lot, but only 28% were willing to pay for a general spot in the lot.  If people are going to be asked to pay for something that used to be free, they want something in return.

The survey recommendations include some ideas around incentivizing carpooling to park and rides.  The initiative is laudable, and Sound Transit is working on something similar, but it’s hard enough to get people to carpool, even all the way to work. Going through the hassle of organizing a carpool just to get to a bus stop seems like a lot of effort for little return.  It seems like a better idea to just charge for spaces and let people organize a carpool if they want to save money.

Whatever program takes hold, increasing the utilization and/or revenue generation from park and rides is a good thing.  Folks will complain and threaten to just drive to work, but the reality is that a monthly spot in the Seattle CBD costs $288/month, the 7th most expensive in the country.  Paying for parking and an ORCA card (assuming your employer doesn’t provide one) is still a better deal.

61 Replies to “Better Park-and-Ride Lots”

  1. The anti-car, absolutely-no-parking zealots should take note of the finding that “Most lots are full by 8am, almost everyone drives alone to get there, and almost everyone is going to work.” What that boils down to is that every one of those SOVs would be clogging the roads if we didn’t have park-and-ride lots, and that we could likely boost transit usage even more – thus taking even more SOVs off the roads – if we increased lot capacity.

    But entitled SOV drivers should take note as well. If the lots are full by 8am, that indicates a pretty high demand for a limited resource, and while some may argue that free parking is a good way to incentivize transit use it’s equally valid that we should be charging at least a nominal fee for a service of value (especially if 28% of current users admit to a willingness to pay for something they’re currently getting for free).

    There’s absolutely no reason why WSDOT / Sound Transit shouldn’t run a pilot program of charging for parking. I suspect that most current park-and-ride users would grumble a bit about it, but would come around once they realize, as this article indicates, that they’d be paying to park at their destination anyway – at a higher cost – if they drove to their destination. Maybe even have a limited number of parking spaces available for reservation at a premium rate to call the bluff of those 46% of respondents who said they were willing to pay for a “guaranteed” spot at the lot.

    1. Not everyone is going to Seattle or Bellevue though. I work in Bothell and use transit to bypass the clogged I-405, but there’s free parking at my workplace, so if parking is more than the bus fare I’d be better off driving and paying tolls.

      1. At least half the spots should be reserved for a fee. If that doesn’t fit your lifestyle, then enjoy your SOV commute.

        We need to start thinking about what is best for the region. It is clear that the current P&R system is over stressed. Time to make some changes.

      2. If that works for you, then fine. The space your car previously took in the park-and-ride lot will be available for someone else who is willing to pay since that option works for them, and our infrastructure will become at least a bit more self-supporting.

    2. “every one of those SOVs would be clogging the roads if we didn’t have park-and-ride lots”

      Thought experiment: what would happen if P&Rs didn’t exist or the War on Cars closed them all? Not all of those cars would clog the roads because people would make different choices. The ones with the most high-paying and rewarding jobs who love their suburban house in spite of the commute would drive. Others would drive out of necessity. But there’s a point of diminishing return where the salary isn’t enough to make the commute worth it. Such people will either move or change jobs. If they move, that’s what urbanists want, right? But they can’t move to Seattle because it doesn’t have enough housing vacancies for all of them. The vacancy rate is such that rents are going up at a worrying rate every year, and only a few houses are for sale (1/6 of the pre-crash number). So most of them would have to move to another suburban location. If they stay put and find a job closer to home (or if this was their original job if P&Rs never existed), it would probably be a lower-level, lower-paying job on the outskirts, so their career and future prospects would be affected.

      Another more fundamental issue is that if the P&Rs didn’t exist, those people would not have any relationship to transit at all: they would spend their lifetime driving and their children would grow up without having transit available. There may be some minimum coverage transit but it’s too infrequent, too far away, and it would be more than just an inconvenience to use it. That means people grow up believing transit won’t be there when they need it, so they don’t take it seriously and don’t vote for comprehensive transit. That’s essentially what happened to the boomer generatioon, and it’s taken a long time to slowly start to turn that around. That “time” was the time when the suburbs and exurbs grew and became such problems. Now in our time we’ve seen Canyon Park grow with minimal transit, and Monroe with no transit. So it’s the same thing happening again, but fortunately it’s only a small part on the edge of the metropolitan area rather than most of the metropolitan area, and steps are being taken to stop it such as Swift in Canyon Park.

    3. “every one of those SOVs would be clogging the roads if we didn’t have park-and-ride lots”

      Not necessarily. A lot depends on what the alternatives are. There may be feeder buses that run less frequently, but cost the rider a few minutes. Even when you factor in the transfer (or delay) it might still be worth taking the bus.

      In my opinion a large park and ride lot is a failure, while small park and ride lots are fine. If a lot can carry several bus loads of people (and is routinely full) then something went wrong. The feeder service somehow failed to cover the region or failed to take advantage of smaller park and ride lots. Park and ride lots should enable sufficient ridership to warrant good service, but no more. Otherwise you are simply clogging up the roads on the way to the big park and ride lots, while creating a vicious cycle of bad local bus service.

  2. I like the carpooling idea of the study. But I would like it to be dfined by 2 or more licensed drivers possibly get a small discount for the spot

      1. Very good point, z7. I actually prefer to use the neighborhood bus to get to the park and ride myself. I just think that in order to ween somebody out of their SOV, a little reward would not be a bad idea. It was difficult for Metro to get them to the park and rides 25 years ago. If splitting gas money and fees were enough for everyone, alnost everybody woud carpool anyway. But they don’t. I just don’t want to alienate them back to their car. I do not actually know if it would work, but I still think it is sonething to study.

      2. “It was difficult for Metro to get them to the park and rides 25 years ago.”

        That’s another point. The original P&Rs were built to entice people onto transit. That allowed peak expresses to get out of low-density residential negihborhoods, and the concentration of passengers allowed more frequent expresses which were more attractive to people. Before P&Rs peak expresses went straight through single-family areas, giving a lucky few streets direct access and leaving everyone a mile around wondering why those streets were so luck when they weren’t any denser than the other streets. The reason was mainly that those were the oldest neigborhoods and those route patterns may have made sense ten years earlier, but that’s small comfort.

        Now as we contemplate expanding P&Rs in 2016, it’s a fair question to ask whether the situation has changed, and whether it has changed enough to justify charging for parking, not expanding P&Rs, or even shrinking them. The suburbs still aren’t dense enough to cope with shrinking P&Rs, and expanding them is the #1 most popular thing they want to spend their tax money on so they’ll stay for now. But charging for parking is a reasonable step to reverse the tragedy-of-the-commons problem and get people to understand that garages are extremely expensive per parking space, which most people don’t believe yet. Yet I’m still concerned about hardships on the working poor, so I’d rather experiment with a few incentive-charge schemes before slapping a blanket $5 fee on every space.

      3. Why not let the cities pay for their own P&R lots? Sound Transit/Metro could make clear that they will not pay for any net new parking, unless it is self-sustaining (read: pay parking). If cities value parking for transit, they can buy it… or better yet, zone for transit-oriented development.

      4. At the risk of further complication …

        Would there be some way to ameliorate the impact of charging for P&R use on the working poor through ORCA LIFT?

  3. The survey result isn’t very useful.
    The better cheap model is Seattle’s street parking, where rates are reset in each location each quarter so as to leave a few spots open for those who need to travel.
    The better cadillac model is tracking available spaces at a garage, and increasing rates like the HOT lanes, but without the rate cap.

    Integrating parking into Orca is critical.

    The vanpools should be moved to the rarely used rented church lots.
    Nobody in a vanpool is taking a bus to the park and ride.

    1. Most on-street parking does not permit all-day use, which is what employees need. And on-street parking isn’t guaranteed either, unlike paying for a monthly parking pass.

  4. Simple solution,

    Orca pass with parking pass.

    They make bicycle parking fees.

    If people get upset at paying. No worries you will be 60 % full and sure more people will come back.

    People will only see parking as a value if it costs something.

  5. Make half the spots FCFS and the other half fee reserved, reverting to FCFS after 10:00 am. Then do something about the surface runoff issues for these lots.

    People who want to live in BFE suburbia are going to have to start dealing with the fact that their lifestyle is economically and environmentally inefficient. Let them start paying more of their own way. And they find that to be either expensive or inconvenient then so be it — suburban living is a lifestyle choice. If they made that choice, then they should deal with the consequences of that choice.

    No more whining about not getting enough free stuff.

    1. “Let them start paying more of their own way… then they should deal with the consequences of that choice.”

      They can outvote is. :) If you want to know why Link has more suburban lines and new large P&Rs and less city lines and stations, that’s why.

      1. @Mike Orr,

        That is only partially correct.

        The real reason that we have so much suburban investment is because the powers that be didn’t want Seattle to go it alone and instead shackled Seattle to suburbia via subarea equity and a fixed tax rate. Give Seattle the ability to go it alone, or give Seattle the ability to pay a higher tax rate within subarea equity, and you would see a more Seattle focused investment pattern.

    2. Abhor suburbanites if you will, but one could also argue that many of the people who commute into the city are actually paying the consequences of Seattleites who have successfully fought against increasing density in their neighborhoods.

      1. Well said Julie B, well said. It’s like Martin said on the last STB podcast – transit advocates also become land use advocates at some point. It’s also one reason why Sound Transit Planning slid in a transit-oriented development segment, G*d bless ’em all not just my transit idols Karen & Ric.

    3. “No more whining about free stuff” – WTF? Transit and light rail is the most subsidized service there is for residents of King County. Charging for parking at park n rides will make current transit riders who use part n rides look for cheaper more reliable alternatives (non-transit). Is this the goal?

      1. Depends on the lot.

        If the lots are full by 8 am, then there will always be someone else willing to take their place in the lot.

        If you want transit to be less subsidized, then you want more income for free services. This does exactly that.

      2. A parking space in a building costs at least $30,000, and the spaces in a multistory garage cost up to $70,000. That’s what people mean when they say that drivers don’t understand the cost of the parking they insist be provided for them. A blacktop surface lot costs less but takes a lot of room, which pushes everything around them apart and makes it longer to walk between them.

      3. Given that light rail has ca. 60% fare recovery, how much do you think highways should be tolled, Chuck?

      4. Yeah, I wonder how much gas tax really covers the cost of roads… you know that INSIDIOUS gas tax that Jay Inslee voted to embed without a referendum MORE OF into our goods like food, Amazon Smile purchases, clothes and anything else that’s hauled on roads. Heck, this INSIDIOUS tax creeps into the cost of public services like first responders, planning, parks, Public Works, and even transit itself…

  6. Growing up in suburban NJ, I don’t understand the vehement objection to paid park and ride lots. That was the norm for commuters. A blurb from the nearest train P&R to where I grew up:

    “The Permit Parking lot (LOT #1) is the triangular shaped lot located on the North Side of the railroad tracks between Main Street and Atlantic Ave. Annual permits are $480.00 for the full year, or $140.00 for a quarterly (three month) permit. The lot is currently SOLD OUT with an approximate 1-2 YEAR waitlist. Both the daily lot and permit lot are open to the general public on Saturdays and Sundays and federal legal holidays. No permit is required and there is no fee in either lot. The Matawan Permit Lot opens to the general public AFTER 11:00 am Monday through Friday. A parking permit is not required AFTER 11:00 am and there is no fee charged for parking.”

    That seems like a fairly sensible thing to do. Free open parking daytime and weekends, reserved parking weekday mornings. And no shortage of demand even at that price.

    1. From suburban NJ, most people are commuting to NYC. Assuming 50 work weeks, $480/year works out to $2/day. Parking in NY probably runs that much per month. Plus trains are going to be faster than driving.

      Here, parking in Seattle is much cheaper. Also, many people are not going to Seattle and/or their employer provides free parking. And, buses are rarely that much faster than cars. So there’s much less of an advantage for people to pay for parking.

    2. I’ve never lived in the east coast so I don’t know: have these always been paid lots or when did they start charging for them. The resistance is the same as highway tools: back east there have always been tolls, whereas ere there haven’t, except occasionally to pay the bonds for a particular project. People feel like they already paid for the roads and P&Rs through their taxes, so charging tolls is double-dipping. Not to mention that a tax is diffused across the entire population while tolls hit the working poor acutely. Of course, wealthy people hide behind that (“Tolls will hit the poor medical assistant”) even when the majority of road users aren’t poor (so they get off scot-free).

  7. Here’s a park & ride we can all agree is a good use of its land. Seattle’s Greenlake P&R. Seattle’s largest Park & Ride, with 411 parking spaces, is underneath I-5 so not a good site for TOD. I walk past it often and on the weekend there are multiple vanpool vans parked there, so I’m guessing it’s used quite a bit for vanpool meet-ups.

    1. Exactly right. Now imagine what the surrounding neighborhoods would look like at 8:30 am without it; that’s west Seattle. Without park and ride lots, particularly in the city, folks will just hide and ride. The demand is there, we have to either meet it or accept the negative consequences of not performing this necessary evil.

      1. I thought neighborhoods could get some deal where outsiders can park on the street for only 2 hours at a time.

      2. Those are Neighborood Residential Zones, which residents can ask the city for. But if the P&R were closed the express routes would stop serving it so the cars wouldn’t be there. The 45 and 76X would continue to serve it because it’s on their way, but the ST Express from the Eastside would no longer go there. Likewise if the Star Lake P&Rs were closed, its bus routes would be deleted or rerouted eleswhere.

  8. If parking is charged, the drop-off and pick-up activity will increase and carpooling to the lot will increase. It’s also possible that some that are parking for free would choose to walk; I’ve even heard of some people who drive just a few blocks to a free lot because they can.

    This is important because any growth in transit riders will probably from these groups. Without growth from these groups being considered, park-and-ride ridership can’t grow because there is only a fixed number of spaces.

    1. Good point. The whole point of P&Rs is for people who don’t have buses nearby and can’t walk or carpool to the P&R.

      1. Right, which is why small park and ride lots make sense, and big ones don’t (as I said above). If you have a lot that holds 1,000 cars and it is full by 8:00 AM, then local bus service has failed. 1,000 people headed to a location (even one just on the way to their ultimate destination) justifies bus service. Chances are, most are congregating along a particular corridor, where small park and ride lots make sense.

        A good example is Northgate and the 41. The park and ride lot isn’t needed anymore. The 41 fills up well before the bus gets there. Local residents wanted to eliminate it (but by law they couldn’t). At the same time, the small park and ride on 125th and 27th NE (which holds about 30 cars) is fine. It serves the nearby neighborhood and helps bump up 41 ridership (which is largely made up of people who walk to a stop).

        Other neighborhoods aren’t so lucky, but that is because bus service isn’t as good. One obvious solution would be to charge for parking and put money into local bus service. Eventually you could get to the point where most people take a bus from their house (or a small park and ride) while those willing to pay for premium service go to the big park and ride.

  9. I consider park & ride lots a necessary evil transition point in our journey to make more people ride transit and be transit choice riders. I do think that if we’re going to rightfully charge a small price for parking then let’s give folks a guaranteed spot. OR free parking only for day, monthly or annual ORCA pass holders. Better that than the alternative…

    I mean yes there IS a cost to “free” parking, but if the alternative is buses going up and down every block because somebody won’t walk .25 of a mile or on-demand transit well then what’s most cost-effective? Part of the problem is for working parents, if their kid has after-school activities transit can only do so much for them. Taxis/ride-sharing gets expensive & cost-ineffective quick.

    That said, I wish I had family understand the best place for a disabled person is NOT in an exurban area… I “get it” some of you in STB comment threads are tired of suburbia.

    There’s my initial thoughts. Over to you, my friends.

    1. A disabled person could live in one of the new units being built around the new light rail stations and be very happy I would think.

    2. I have very similar thoughts as you, Joe. As I said above, though, I think the transition should be to smaller park and ride lots before we go full “urban” (which is unlikely in most of this region). It is unrealistic to assume that every suburban neighborhood will have bus service (some are just too low density) but a park and ride lot need only be big enough to justify bus service. A handful of small lots (30 or so cars) and you have a perfectly fine bus route. But a giant park and ride lot hampers the development of that type of local service, thus perpetuating a car dependent lifestyle for all the residents (even the ones that can’t afford to own a car).

      Which is not to say we should start shutting down the big lots. That would be silly (and difficult legally and politically). But charging seems like a very good first step. At the same time, you need to provide a decent alternative. Once you do that, most people will walk to a bus stop or drive to a nearby (free, but small) park and ride while those willing to save a couple minutes will drive to the big lot and pay extra for the privilege.

  10. I’ve seen roughly two full floors of non-used parking stalls at Angle Lake Station most times I’ve been there on a weekday (except September 30). If you are coming from somewhere south of Angle Lake, consider that option. It’ll take you 6 minutes on the train to get to TIBS vs. a much longer time stuck in the morning commute on I-5 and SR 518.

    Also, the A Line may actually be running more often than the posted schedule. Three As passed me, at 6-minute headway, as I was hiking north along Pac Highway a few days ago. (I look forward to the BRT-over-rail supporters lobbying with me to make 6-minute headway on the A Line official.)

    1. I checked back at Angle Lake Station after this afternoon’s kickoff. About two floors were empty, similar to a weekday.

    2. Does this mean it’s oversized, or is it reasonable capacity for the next seven years.

      And what will happen in 2023 (or 2024 if ST3 passes)? Will half the garage empty out? Is the a wing that can be closed and converted if necessary? I think there’s a surface lot leased from a private owner that will expire in 2023, isn’t there? Of course, we can also look at TIB, which is still full. But the ultimate answer depends on the relative size of the lot compared to its cachement area, and TIB is probably small for its area. Angle Lake might not have that problem once the Federal Way/Auburn drivers are gone?

      1. Even if ST3 fails, Link is heading further south (Highline CC and 272nd). Once those go in, I don’t think it matters to Angle Lake how much farther this goes. Either a driver coming from the south goes to the nearest station, or just keeps going until TIBS.

        Speaking of which, I wonder if it simply takes too long from Angle Lake to get huge ridership. Driving to the station and taking a fairly long ride into down just isn’t that appealing. TIBS is an unusual station. There is a gigantic gap between it and the next stop — making it operate very much like an express. This means that “backtracking” (heading south) could really pay off. I would imagine there isn’t that much traffic heading the opposite direction of most rush hour commuters, which means that someone a bit north of the station would have an easy drive to the station, then a fast ride into town.

        On the other hand, Angle Lake really doesn’t offer that. For some it might make sense to head south, but my guess is that 99 is slow either direction and the time penalty (of a couple extra stops) don’t really pay for itself. In other words, Link may already be seeing the folly of trying to build a subway that far away from the urban core when commuter rail is more appropriate.

        But then again, it may just take time. I would be surprised if the lot isn’t filled up relatively soon (and ridership, which is largely based on it, following suit). It isn’t a gigantic lot (it can’t hold 10,000 cars) and I would expect the stop to carry a few thousand people a day (otherwise this thing is doing much worse than I expected).

    3. I thought ST had issues with the elevators in the angle lake parking garage, so they closed off the top two floors of parking.

      1. The elevators are still broken but you can still park on the upper levels and take the stairs. The station has been open for a month and nobody is working on the elevators. Maybe they are waiting for parts…. These kind of things do not give people much confidence in their transit agency when we have a big vote in 2 weeks. How about a sign on the elevator with an ECD?

  11. Wow demand for a free good that is expensive to supply is too high! Who would have expected??? I thought Soviet breadlines were the best solution for all American drivers.

  12. Back when the GI Joes stores were still around, some of those in my area had their parking lots also dedicated as park and ride lots. At least one movie theatre had its parking lot set up that way too, as well as some churches.

    Seems like some better use of parking that already exists might be worth examining.

    1. I know metro has a fair number of church parking lots signed up as park and rides. I’m not sure what the mechanics to get a private business to pledge part of their lot to an official park and ride would be.

    2. There aren’t that many lots that don’t fill up on ordinary weekdays. A quarter of the lot may be empty some days but it’s needed for day-to-day variation. The most notorious case of oversize lots was Northgate, where the south lot was empty even on Christmas, but that’s unusual. Church lots are an exception because their parking demand is on Sundays. I don’t know why they’d need to become “official” lots. As long as they have a sign and people know they’re there, which inquiring minds do, isn’t that enough?

  13. While I now live within a short walk of the C line. In my subarban childhood home I was first introduced to transit at the Burien park and ride–mom would take us Downtown once or twice a year and then I park and rided 5 years to the UW. I think this does both introduce the driver only crowd to transit and furthermore makes them more open to supporting transit politically and financially because they see a possibility though only ocassionally of using it (we can take it to the sports game or the airport or the . . . ). It gives it some seeming relevancy.

    I do think all spots should be charged before 10 AM to encourage bus shuttle usage and free up spaced for those with trully no other shuttle or drop off option. This likewise would free up spot for the the mid-day crowd (empty spots after 10AM) which is a different demographic and would provide more ridership in the mid-day when extra capacity is available. I would ban, prohibit all car-pooling and van-pooling from at capacy lots.

    1. Good stuff Rob E, but I don’t think, “I would ban, prohibit all car-pooling and van-pooling from at capacy lots” is well thought through. I’m all for carpooling & vanpooling to/from park & rides if that will reduce single occupancy vehicle use and increase transit use.

      1. No, people can car-pool to the lots, just not forms car pools at the lots and not use transit

      2. Thanks Rob E. I’ve noticed at the Chuckanut Park & Ride in Skagit that it’s a vanpool hub. I do get your upset at a park & ride lot being used for a private carpool when transit users who need a good first mile/last mile vehicle are struggling for parking.

    2. I occasionally take the 268 to Maple Valley to see how the area and ridership is doing. One Saturday morning on my return trip a man and his son got on from one of the new housing developments between Lake Meridian and Wax Road. He was taking his son on a bus trip downtown.

  14. A market based price for parking should be tied into security and lighting improvements. Otherwise people WILL do what has been called “hide and ride”, or park on the street in suburban areas for free and catch the bus. This happens more often than you would think, especially for rapid bus routes (as opposed to trains where the stations are obvious and often permit parking rules have been placed around them). Tying monthly parking permits to transit ridership would be useful – carpoolers can pay the daily fee.

    1. I have no problem with hide and ride. In fact a great use for all the parking right a way that sits empty and is already paid for. All people have a right to use on street parking for their transport needs–visiting a friend, shopping or meeting the bus. On street parking is not owned by or of special rights to the adjacient home owner. It is a city asset.

      1. Agreed. In fact, I think the term “hide and ride” has some bad connotations to it, as though it’s some sort of nefarious thing. This flows from the belief that the only “correct” use of the public right-of-way in front of peoples’ houses is to store cars belonging to people living in those houses.

        We need to move past this thinking. This is what brings us RPZ passes, where people living in a neighborhood get priority use of the public space over people who work there or visit for other reasons. This is what causes neighborhood groups to oppose all sorts of development, as it would cause more people to compete for “their” parking space.

        Instead, let’s agree that the public space is in fact public and should therefore be available on an equal basis for all who wish to use it. If someone wants to use it to park their car because they live nearby, great. If someone wants to use it to park their car because it’s close to a bus line, great.

        If that means the parking fills up, the policies put in place to deal with that (time limits, charging money, etc.) should apply equally to all.

  15. What stuck out to me is that 28% would pay for a parking space a 15 minute walk away if guaranteed.

  16. Just set up demand-based pricing, charging anywhere from free to $50/day to keep 5% of the spots available all the time.

    If there are always spots, it’s free.

    If the pricing needs to be $50 bucks a day (or $20 or $10) to keep spots open and people pay it, awesome. If that price rises to a level where ST would make a profit by building more spots, double-awesome. Build ’em. If there are always spots and it’s free, and it doesn’t look like that situation will increasing in the near future due to changing transit usage, turn the spots into apodments.

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