35 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Free Carpool Parking Permits”

  1. Carpools have always seemed to me like the most inflexible kind of transit there is. What percentage of region’s passengers really use them?


    1. Carpooling was very popular during the ’70s oil crisis. It really fell out of favor since then. I’m not sure why. There is a lot to be said for flexibility, I suppose, but in theory this should be the golden age of carpooling. It has never been easier to find someone who is going to the same place as you. Even just sharing the first or last half of the ride (to the park and ride or from it) makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately, without a huge incentive to do so, people will simply not take the energy to save themselves time on a commute. The last time I carpooled, it was across 520, which does make me think that unless you can avoid horrific traffic, most people won’t bother. Changing HOV 2 to HOV 3 might actually lead to more people (although fewer cars) carpooling.

    2. Carpooling was heavily promoted then; I wouldn’t say it was popular. People tried it out and found it only really works within a large institution. When tens of thousands of people are going to the same place for the same shift, the odds are better that two or more of them live near each other. But in all the 10-20 person companies I’ve worked, everyone comes from a different direction. At two companies in Ballard and Northgate (Meridian Ave), I took the bus, one drove from south Everett, another from Bothell, another from Des Moines, another from Kirkland, etc. At another job in north Seattle one person drove from Ash Way, then another one started who lived near there so they started carpooling while they had the same schedule, but stopped when their schedules diverged. Three others live in the same Seattle neighborhood and I suppose could carpool but then they’d have to coordinate their schedules, and I never thought of it and I suppose they haven’t either. They do carpool to occasional off-site events but not everyday. Sometimes neighbors who work near each other but at different companies will carpool, but that opportunity doesn’t come up every often. Then there’s the “two-minute carpool” where people will stop at the UW’s periphery and pick up passengers so they can get the carpool rate at the Montlake parking lot.

      So it seems to me that everyone who can carpool and is willing to do so is doing it; the problem is it’s just not feasible when neighbors work in random locations. The carpool rate may match the transit rate now, but what was the transit rate in the 1970s? When I started riding Metro in 1980 the 271’s precursor was hourly, as was the 235 (also called 235), the 234 didn’t exist, the 550’s precursor was two half-hourly routes with 30′ buses and milk-run stops (Beaux Arts, Enatai, East Mercer Way, West Mercer Way), the 522’s precursor was hourly and stopped at Northgate on the way. So transit was very coverage-based and downtown-express based, so the majority had no bus available to their workplace, and weren’t going to put up with hourly service. So the carpool rate must have been significantly higher than the transit rate, but then the transit rate caught up, and some people shifted from carpooling to transit.

      1. According to this article from the New York Times, one in four car commuters carpooled: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/29/us/29carpool.html

        That is popular in my book. As for why it died down , from the same article:

        “As cars became more affordable and life became easier, the big car pools broke up,” said Alan Pisarski, a consultant who studies transportation trends.

        Basically it was always a pain, but with money tight, people did it. Once driving alone became much cheaper, people did that instead.

        There are articles out there suggesting a resurgence in carpooling, because it is easier to find someone who is heading that way. You are correct, most carpooling was built around specific companies, as opposed to areas. There are places like Fremont, which doesn’t have great transit, but has several different employers. It is quite possible that there are plenty of people who are driving much the same way, but simply don’t know about it.

      2. Cars are “more affordable”? My parents went from a one-car family to a two-car family in the 1960s. Maybe they were one of the early ones. In high school a few kids had cars but most didn’t. I suppose the difference now is every teenager has a car and houses have three or five cars in the garage and driveway. But that’s more a case of kids getting cars; in my experience in the 1970s every adult already had a car. And many people traded them in for a new car every three years. So I can’t say that cars have become cheaper enough to break up carpools or let more adults have them — they already had them in the 1970s. What goes up and down more is the size of cars: SUVs when gas is cheap, compacts when gas is expensive. And carpools probably go up and down as the price of gas changes; it was low in the 1980s and has been low again since 2008.

      3. Also 25% may have been a national average but I find it hard to believe, because I remember only a few adults around me carpooling. 25% may have done it for a couple years at different times, but not all of them at the same time or continuously for several years.

      4. I’m reading “The Fifties”, a book by historian David Halberstam about the 1950s, and he calls the rides that people gave blacks during the Montgomery bus boycott, carpools. I hadn’t heard carpool used in that sense before.

      5. It’s also interesting that the boycotters weren’t asking for desegregated buses, they were just asking for a fixed line between the white and black rows like other bus agencies had. The Montgomery buses had a moveable line that changed at the discretion of the bus driver, meaning a black row could change into a white row and force the people seated to move, which is what happened to Rosa Parks and led to the bus boycott.

      6. Yeah, now that people have left shift work, and work farther apart, and gas is cheap (especially inflation-adjusted), it’s hard to form a carpool. This is one area though where tech could actually make a difference. No one’s had the scale to pull it off yet, but ad-hoc carpooling via a mobile app is still an interesting idea. There’s apps like iCarpool and the website RideShare Online, which attempt to do matchmaking. But there has to be a clear benefit (like HOV access) to incentivize people to go out of their way to do it.

    3. A couple years ago I read that the group that carpools most in the US, by far, is farm workers.

      I’m pretty sure cars have generally become more affordable to own and operate (considering improvements in reliability) after the oil crisis… and I’m very sure gas got more affordable/available.

      Mike commented on people picking up passengers near the boundary of UW for advantageous parking rates; this sounds similar to “slugging” on a handful of bridges in the US. Are there specific places where people pick up passengers, or is it more like people commuting long distances meet people commuting short distances and work it out individually?

      My understanding is that some aviation-related employers around here really promote carpooling — they aren’t located where very many people have great transit or cycling access, and when parking gets tight carpooling is the obvious solution.

    4. There are also carpools formed to take advantage of head of line privileges on ferry routes. It either takes a common shift/destination or a serious incentive for most people to make the effort. A good parking spot at my girlfriend’s workplace gets the job done when her friends in the neighborhood are working the same shifts but with rotating weekends they only carpool about three days a week (at a employer that is staffed seven days a week).

    1. Thanks, Bruce. Employer connection explains the success. Passengers not only know each other, but have exact same work schedule. Other stat is the more worrisome the longer it lasts.

      Fact is right now, main reason vast majority don’t use transit because there isn’t enough for a normal life. And what there is can’t be trusted for anything vital. Facts and trends really bode well for transit. Empty sprawl-encouraging spaces are filling up, making reorganization a matter of personal freedom.

      Would like to see transit take a more aggressive hand in the process. Really would like to see some Transit Oriented Developments with their own Light Rail and Busways built into the project from the beginning. As developers used to do. Be there before the sprawl gets there. Worth a try?


    2. I’ve never carpooled per se, but when I’ve been a bus commuter I’ve always accepted rides when they were offered. I’d expect many transit riders to register as carpoolers depending on how a survey is worded.

  2. 14:00 hours three comments, two commenters. How ’bout some discussion about how we reverse looming halt toward which several hundred miles of freeway, including transit, is headed?

    Since Nature abhors a vacuum, especially for even talking about emergency measures, maybe time for Elon Musk to wade in just out of spite for Nature. But since vacuum, electric, or diesel, tubes still need tunnels and bridges….who’s his civil engineer, and what does his EIS look like?

    So just by way of an unbelievably needed argument: What are we going to do about, to take one corridor, I-5 between Olympia and Everett? Has to be in less than thirty years, because by then, the cars will have just rusted together bumper to bumper.

    Of course by then, there’ll be giant helicopters with huge electromagnets. Better buy stock in Farrell’s wrecking yards.

    If anybody’s got a single Tweet- really hate that everything has to come from one, especially the Administration that just did. But has anybody either chirped or quacked about some action here?

    Since I’ve watched African buses and trucks trailing clouds of airborne gravel at 60, my call would be to get fastest graders we can find and rip up a couple of dirt and gravel bus only lanes along one side or the other of I-5.

    That’s what Eminent Domain is for-eminent rulers who had Domains did this all the time for their coaches. Nobody will be able to complain that the technology is too modern to understand and maintain. And it won’t look like any taxpayers’ money was wasted on frills.

    Another move is fleet of those Baltic hydrofoils that look like rail coaches on fins like wings. The “Mosquito Fleet did this all the time”. ‘Til cars ran it out of business. Now, turnabout is fair play. Won’t let go of Sounder to Olympia.

    Too bad it’s probably too late to put grooved pavement along the rails so joint ops are possible. Finally a line where Feds say everything on the line has to follow orders and signals to avoid bunching up, or being squashed into a bunch by a locomotive.

    But very unsettling that nobody has any progress on the table that will take less than thirty years. Silence like this means death. Which maybe when spring comes, will start to smell bad enough to fix. If only to keep buzzards from flying into jet engines on their way in to Sea-Tac.

    OK, troops. What do we do. Giant car pools really really relevant too.


    1. I was wondering if everybody was out of town.

      For I-5 travelers, if cost were no object and the legislature were willing. then the state should buy the BNSF rail corridor and facilitate half-hourly Sounder to Olympia. Sounder North would need a new right of way, and the only feasible place would be I-5, where it would unfortunately overlap with Link.But that would address the Paine Field dilemma, with Link diverging over to it and Sounder not. And maybe then we could get on with moving Link to 99 where it should have been in the first place.

      1. Grades are too steep for diesel-hauled commuter rail south out of Everett and north of Lake Union in Seattle.

  3. Random question but does anyone know a way for me to get one of Metro’s bus books? The one that explains all the routes and has the destination sign changes and such. I know there was a digital one online floating around but I’ve always wanted a hard copy.

    1. For a ST book, the 550 seems to have copies by the bus driver. My office building also has them on a display boards with a bunch of other Metro flyers, schedules, etc.

    2. I think M is talking about drivers’ books. The ST book is their replacement for bus schedule brochures. There’s also a regional transit book that has maps of the ST routes and downtown sketches that summarize local routes, but these books are harder to find.

  4. KC’s approach is like if a baby had a baby and the second one thought about taking a step.

  5. Haven’t heard from Sam for a while. Has the Emperor of the comments Ssection abdicated his position? I think there’s a minimum of one troll every six months, the same interval the railroads have to run a train down their land-grant rights-of-way in order to keep them. What does the Great Sam think of East Link’s progress, Bellevue cyclestracks, or Eastside bikeshare?

    1. Sam is still licking the deep wounds inflicted on him by the ST vote. Also, he has bigger fish to fry celebrating the election of the Orange Ego.

    2. I hope he’s all right. Mr Bailo stopped posting but it was common for him to be away for a few months at a time, but then we found out he had passed away. Since we don’t know Sam’s last name or even if that’s his real name, it’s more difficult to tell. And I’m not sure if he’s a Trumpist, although doubtless he would play one here.

  6. I think the real benefit of the carpool program at full park and rides is that it will allow more people to access the parking lot and thence buses later in the morning. Unused capool spots are open to anyone at 8:30. There will hence be less spots available earlier, when there is better direct bus service from rider’s nieghborhood. This will provide a few spots for those that work later, but would never find a spot and also will provide more bus patronage in the shoulder of the peak. I wonder how this is playing out at TIB, their program has been going for a while–and I believe their carpool spots are held until something like 10AM.

    1. A real benefit would be if I could simply pay for a guaranteed space, regardless of how many people I have in my car that day.

    2. You can do that too but it’s a different program. There’s a paid guaranteed space program at a few P&Rs.

  7. A few days ago on a Link discussion I predicted that the Feds would spike all transit and got pooh-poohed. Well, here’s an example of what they’re doing to the HSR train in California. Everyone agrees that electrifying CalTrain would be a great way to get better use out of an extremely constrained facility (there’s room for third-tracking only a few of places on the line, mostly up north of the airport).

    But, to kill the “Bullet Train” they’re willing to knife CalTrain electrification. Here’s Kevin Drum on the issue (Drum is anti-HSR) http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2017/02/republicans-have-sneaky-plan-kill-california-bullet-train

    1. Caltrain electrification was always a side piece to the HSR project, so I’m not surprised at this, and saying “They’re killing my Caltrain!” is an overstatement because it was always a side project. But, if they’re serious about this, they should split out the Caltrain project and evaluate it on its own merits. Let the HSR project depend on the Caltrain project rather than the other way round. It’s worth Californians telling their Congressmen to do so. HSR would be a minor to moderate benefit to California, while Caltrain electrification (which is the key to more frequency) would be a major benefit to California. If they won’t put BART all the way around the West Bay, then bump up Caltrain’s frequency to 30 minutes or 15 minutes to compensate. It’s running at capacity now so it needs more frequency to gain ridership.

  8. The Silicon Valley leadership is eager to see Caltrain electrified. It could be done far more quickly and cheaply than building a 30 mile long parallel BART line. Most of the density on the Peninsula there is around the Caltrain stations, because that’s where it historically developed.

    1. “Electrical towers will require removal of at least 200 trees, Conners said. And because the system is also intended as a step toward high-speed rail … Atherton officials anticipate future train-related issues. “High-speed rail has even more impacts because of the speeds at which it goes through communities,” Conners said.”

      200 trees is sufficient reason to stop a commuter rail expansion? And what about the emissions from cars because of the lack of expansion, or the time people will waste year after year? And what are these HSR impacts? Are there level crossings? Or is this just about noise? Do they also care about the noise from the freeways? Some people along Eastlake and Capitol Hill wished officials cared more about noise.

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