The 15 lots at which Carpool Permits will be offered. (Republic NW Map)

Metro announced yesterday that it will offer carpool parking permits at 6 park and rides (P&R). Beginning February 1st, carpool groups can obtain permits for reserved spaces at Eastgate, Issaquah Highlands, Northgate, Redmond, South Kirkland, and South Renton.

Metro’s entry into the program will boost carpool access by 66%, with the 6 new P&Rs joining the 9 that Sound Transit already operates on a partial permit basis. All but one of these new sites – South Renton P&R, though ST 560 is two blocks away – are served jointly by Sound Transit and Metro, so this new program will help to provide access more equally throughout the system. It will also offer express bus riders a bit of modal equality, with the prior lots being mostly located at Sounder and Link stations.

Metro’s program will be nearly identical to the program rolled out by Sound Transit, with the primary difference being the $5 nominal fee that only Sound Transit will charge, whereas Metro’s permits will be free. Republic Parking NW will operate both programs jointly, and Metro will reevaluate the performance of its 6 new lots after one year. Current occupancy data shows that half of Metro’s P&Rs are at 80% capacity or greater, and all of the 6 P&Rs chosen for this pilot program are at 93% or greater occupancy.

Parking is a capital intensive, space-hogging resource that fundamentally cannot scale, with hundreds of spaces being filled all day on a small handful of buses or trains. With Link construction set to make a scarce resource dearer still – with South Bellevue and Overlake TC losing parking early this year – increasing passenger density at other P&Rs is clearly preferable to sourcing new capacity (though Sound Transit is planning lots of that too).

But parking is a legitimate niche product for those needing transit access for whom fixed-route transit service would be prohibitively expensive or inefficient for agencies to provide. With this natural scarcity and high demand, park and rides will always be oversubscribed unless agencies provide either preferential access to carpools and/or provide a market price for single-occupancy spots. Though pricing would be the strongest way of managing demand, the expansion of carpool permitting is an encouraging step in the right direction, and will reward those who make more efficient use of the resource. Kudos to Metro for jumping on board.

21 Replies to “Metro Brings Carpool Permits to 6 More Park and Rides”

  1. At South Renton st 566 also serves the same stops that the 560 serves as does rapid ride f line which does not serve the park and ride. My guess is that most users will indeed ride the 101 from s Renton park and ride.

    1. I suspect there are plenty who drive and catch route 101 there who could catch routes 105, 148, or 169. It seems like it would be a lot cheaper to consider the Rainier Beach Station reorganization than to just assume everybody will (and can) drive to South Renton in the future. I bet a lot of people could be induced to take their local bus if it were more frequent and connected all the way to a frequent passenger train station.

    2. The transit center is moving to the P&R; that was in ST3. So by 2024 all Renton routes will go to the P&R. It’s unclear how many will go to downtown Renton.

      Metro’s LRP in 2025 has:
      – P&R and downtown: 101, Rapid 1033 (like 180/169, Auburn – Kent – Renton)
      – Downtown only: 5 routes including F, 107, Rapid 1075 (Renton Highlands – Renton Ave – Rainier Beach), Rapid 1030 (like 240).
      – P&R only: 4 routes including 102, 143, Renton-Issaquah express (why?), 405 BRT
      – Rainier Ave between P&R and downtown: 9 routes

      However, that may not reflect moving the transit center because the city of Renton wants to get buses out of downtown, and I would expect only one or two routes to remain, not seven.

  2. “But parking is a legitimate niche product for those needing transit access for whom fixed-route transit service would be prohibitively expensive or inefficient for agencies to provide.”

    Describing P&Rs as a niche product seems weird to me. There are thousands of regular riders who depend upon them for access to transit.

    I wonder why the county saw fit to offer the carpool permits under different terms than ST did. It’s just one more instance of how different policies among agencies add complexity to the task of navigating the system.

    1. Niche in terms of the % of overall transit riders who access transit via a park & ride. For all the haggling over Mercer Island’s future park & ride, for instance, you could fill the lot to capacity and still fit everyone on a single train.

      1. Right. Mercer Island also looks like a classic example of what I mention down below. It is kind of crazy to worry about building a monster park and ride lot next to the train. The answer is to run the 204 a lot more often. There are already a bunch of park and ride lots along the way, and chances are it would be much cheaper to add some more than it would be to expand the lot that happens to sit on prime real estate next to the train station. That would result in people driving a much shorter distance and avoiding a lot of traffic. But to do that, you would need to invest in bus service — once every half hour during rush hour and once every hour in the middle of the day won’t cut it.

        There is also the issue of when a park and ride lot gets full. If the park and ride is in a major stop (next to a train) then it is likely that parking is hard to come by nearby. But if it is in a relatively remote location (like the lots that serve the 204) then my guess is it is pretty easy for people to park nearby. The result is that people use transit. Anecdotally, I know people who have given up on the train because the lot in Tukwila is full. They wanted to attend a Mariner’s game, and figured they would park and ride the train. But after circling the lot a few times, they just decided to drive to the game. I just don’t see that happening if the lots are small, and overflow simply means walking a bit farther (as you would if you drove to the game).

    2. “I wonder why the county saw fit to offer the carpool permits under different terms than ST did.”

      – These lots are less full, thus more difficult to extract money from?
      – It was ST’s decision, not a joint decision, and King County wasn’t consulted on what the terms should be?
      – ST’s policy wasn’t finalized when King County made its decision?
      – Both are pilot projects; i.e., short-term experiments?
      – King County wanted to experiment with a different paradigm and compare?
      – King County has different goals?
      – King County has money to burn?

      On the face of it, the biggest problem that might come up is if people flock to King County’s program to avoid the fee and shun ST’s program. An imbalance would presumably necessitate an adjustment and coordination. But if KC’s reserved slots fill up and ST’s hasn’t, then people would be drawn back to the only choice.

      1. Or the hassle of collecting money was too much, or would require Council action? Lots of possibilities.

      2. Given both are pilots, I’d actually prefer different policies to test how people react to different incentives

    1. I think that day will come, probably not in direct users fees however when combined with the cost of fuel. And for many parts of the region it will continue to be the only way to provide efficient and effect service as the sprawling neighborhood trend of the 1970s+ will be the only place people can afford to buy homes.

      1. They won’t be able to buy homes for long. The Times said yesterday, “King County had only about 1,600 single-family houses on the market in December, the fewest since records began in 2000.” The most affordable houses are out in Snoqualmie, Maple Valley, and Snohomish and Pierce Counties, in neighborhoods that were built in the 2000s.

        Also, “Unlike the rental market, which is seeing a historic boom of new apartment units, there are virtually no new single-family homes getting built in Seattle, and few in the suburbs, as the region becomes denser. That leaves an ever-rising population to compete over the same stock of houses — already, about three-fourths of homes in the region attract bidding wars, driving prices higher. But now, the situation has worsened as many would-be home sellers are holding onto their houses because they fear they’ll blow their profits having to buy an expensive new home.”

        And, while South King County has been a bastion of affordability, and my friend in 2007 bought a 1950s house in a transit-poor SeaTac and sold it ca. 2014 for less than he bought it for, another article said that rents in south King County are rising faster than the rest of the county, and the same may be true for SFH prices. That points to a trend towards convergence in prices (even if it doesn’t go all the way). The article also said hardly any of the new apartments in the region were built in south King County, even though it has the largest housing shortage. (Whatever that means; I thought Seattle had the largest shortage.) Again the trends for houses and apartments are not the same, but when you have less data for houses you have to extrapolate from apartments.

        What bothers me the most about Thursday’s article is the assumption that buying single-family houses is the only thing that matters; everything else is a small niche. But it only matters to those who can afford to buy and want to be in long-term debt. A better attitude would be to focus on making sure everybody has access to some kind of housing, and in a walkable neighborhood well-connected with transit if they want that. Then we can worry about those who want the luxury of a single-family house. We could also give a thought to row houses. (*I won’t give that the full lambastement because it’s unclear to me whether “house” in this context includes attached houses, or what percent of house buyers would be satisfied with an attached one.)

        Another factor about 1970s houses vs 2000s houses: the former residents drive half the distance.

  3. I agree with what you said about park and ride lots. There is a conflict here, which you stated well.

    Parking is a capital intensive, space-hogging resource that fundamentally cannot scale, with hundreds of spaces being filled all day on a small handful of buses or trains.

    But parking is a legitimate niche product for those needing transit access for whom fixed-route transit service would be prohibitively expensive or inefficient for agencies to provide.

    It seems to me that there is a “right size” for park and ride lots. People have to arrive at a lot somehow. If the lot is huge, then they are likely all driving along the same road at some point to get there. When that happens, there is the possibility of serving them with fixed-route transit. In other words, if you are thinking of building a giant park and ride lot, chances are you’ve missed the opportunity to build far more effective, smaller lots, served with other transit. Rather than build huge parking lots serving an entire region, we should be building small park and ride lots serving neighborhoods.

    Ideally the bus route manages to serve other, more densely populated areas, although theoretically it could simply serve lots of park and ride lots. There is an example of this with 41. This tiny lot: holds only 21 cars, but if you happen to live a few blocks to the north, it could save you quite a bit of walking (there are no bus routes between 125th and 145th). The 41 runs by the lot, and there are other park and ride lots along the way, although most riders simply walk to the station.

    It is a tricky balancing act. Even on some arterials it might be hard to justify a series of smaller park and ride lots and fixed route bus service. But if you are spending big bucks expanding an existing park and ride lot, chances are you are missing out on providing service that would be better for everyone.

    1. There’s another factor, the kind of trip people want. Many people want to drive to a P&R and that a one-seat train coming every 5-10 minutes. They don’t want to drive to a P&R and take a bus to the train, especially if the bus comes less often, but in some cases just any bus at all. These one-seat train riders are the ones pushing the size of the P&Rs up, and the large garages in ST3 reflect a belief that ST3 wouldn’t pass without them 9(or without them being “early deliverables”).

      Note the irony: the suburban early deliverables are the least cost-effective ST projects (P&Rs), while the Seattle early deliverables where new P&Rs are prohoboted by city policy are the most cost-efficient (RapidRide C&D). Note further that if these garages were scaled down or deferred a few years, Link would open earlier. But that’s not what the suburban mindset wants.

      All this gets into “The High Cost of Free Parking” (book by Donald Shoup): people don’t perceive the cost or cost-ineffectiveness of a parking space everywhere they leave their car, they think it’s insignificant. It’s also interesting that the main criticism of ST3 was the “$4 billion” price tag, not the $30,000-80,000 per parking space. If the garages were downscaled, the total ST3 cost would go down.

      Those prople who went to TIB and circled around and then drove to Seattle, I wonder whether they had a bus from their neighborhood. While I think we need P&Rs for those who don’t, the likelyhood that any particular overflow parker didn’t have a bus option is lower, because of the number of people who won’t consider feeder buses.

      1. Yeah, it’s one thing on the 41 (which does go all the way downtown), and that little P&R is pretty close to LCW, too — I bet it fills up! But it’s another thing on, say, the 346. I’d certainly never drive to a two-seat ride. Biking to a one-seat ride is almost always better!

    2. Additionally, the best neighborhood P&R lots are the lots that can function as more than just P&Rs. Church lots are the best examples, but even things like the Red fairgrounds lot in Puyallup as a feeder lot for Sounder is a great appropriations of existing neighborhood parking for P&R purposes.

  4. We need more dispersed commuter lots with direct bus/shuttle routes to rail lines. Take PT 497 for example. It uses a neighborhood park parking lot and a church parking lot for people to park, and travels directly through a dense neighborhood with a handful of stops. Then, after exiting the dense neighborhood, it travels on city streets for two miles with no stops directly to the Sounder Station. It’s timed to match Sounder trips and moves efficiently taking the same route most would take in their single occupant car to park there. It’s also usually pretty full. That’s what we need. Efficient shuttles that maximize riders, use existing resources, and move people quickly. No, I won’t sit on some milk run that takes a few dozen turns, gets stuck at numerous stoplights, and stops every other block for five miles to get where I am going. I’m not alone. Circling up to the comments on moving the ST buses to South Renton and skipping over the Renton Transit Center downtown, good move. The for ST 566 is ridiculous and slow through Renton. It needs to pull in, make a stop or two, and get back on the freeway, in the carpool lane. That’s express. Sitting through two miles of stoplights to pick up a dozen people at a poorly-located park & ride with no actual destination (no, the cupcake shop and Bank of America branch are NOT destinations) is the worst possible scenario for anybody traveling through from Kent or Auburn.

Comments are closed.