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.