Riders walk to a shuttle bus near Eastgate P&R

Every morning, dozens of riders board shuttle buses one block from Eastgate Park-and-Ride. All but a handful are coming from the parking garage, after storing their cars there for the day. This particular shuttle bus travels to Amazon’s Brazil building in South Lake Union. Other companies appear also to use suburban transit parking as pickup points. Unmarked white buses are frequently seen adjacent to other Eastside P&Rs.

A few riders arrive by bus. Absent direct shuttle service, many might take transit to work. So one may ask whether we should be concerned that publicly funded transit parking is being used by private transit services.

Maybe it depends on what we think these shuttle riders would do in the absence of shuttle buses. Would they use public transit, or drive to South Lake Union? Shuttle buses to South Lake Union are filling a gap in the transit market, albeit one Metro is endeavoring to serve.

At the same time, transit parking is expensive to build. At many locations, it is insufficient for demand. Utilization at Eastgate hovers near 100%, so shuttle riders may be displacing other transit users.

The wholesale parking market is increasingly competitive. Churches and other parking lot owners who have surplus parking on weekdays find it easy to lease space to nearby offices. Many office employers, squeezing more people into smaller spaces, use offsite parking and shuttles for employees. When Sound Transit went looking for parking in Bellevue to replace lost capacity at South Bellevue P&R, there were no nearby alternatives. Every lot in the area was already fully used. Residential neighborhoods near popular transit routes find an increasing number of ‘park-and-hide’ users.

Generally, we should welcome this. It means parking, on- and off-street, is being used more efficiently. The first step to moving beyond ubiquitous driving in the suburbs is to use existing parking more intensely.

But parking scarcity creates a search for less regulated parking. Where can I park for free without getting a ticket? Transit lots are lightly monitored and maybe more readily abused.

44 Replies to “Who should use the park & ride?”

  1. The standard mainstream economic answer is that if a subsidized resource furnished at below-market cost (and you can’t get much more below market than free) is developing shortages, the solution is to let prices rise. Or, in this case, simply to establish prices.

  2. Assuming the park and ride is at 100% capacity can you have a gate at the park and ride entrance where you are required to use your orca card to enter? If you get on the bus it counts as a free transfer. If you don’t get on the bus you get charged ‘whatever’ fee for parking?

  3. BART parking in SF Bay Area is often leased on a monthly basis. This guarantees regular committed transit commuters a spot. Can the management of the lots be covered by fees? I can’t answer that.

    When the “google bus” (a term that should be thought of as generic, like Kleenex is) started picking up employees at standard SF Muni spots, there was some outrage of private companies using the public infrastructure without paying to support it.

    My thinking is that the companies are actually subsidizing public transit. Getting from SF to google or Apple just really doesn’t work on standard public transit, so you have private companies augmenting, not stealing from, the public infrastructure. In these cases I am more apt to look at it as private companies filling in where government institutions have failed.

    If it gets cars off the highways, isn’t that what we want?

    1. The SF shuttles are only using one bus stop for a couple minutes to load. That’s different from a group of parking spaces for all passengers. The Burien, Renton, and Kent garages aren’t solely for transit; they’re also for drivers going to those downtowns, and the cities fund part of the garages. Some P&Rs don’t have any regular buses, only vanpools. What’s the difference between a vanpool and a shuttle other than scale and technical structure?

      The “stealing from” public transit only applies if a bus has to wait for a van at a stop, or if transit riders can’t use the P&R because non-riders are displacing them. We’d have to see whether that’s actually occurring. Certainly the Issaquah Highlands P&R has Microsoft shuttles, and the people in Sammamish and the Highlands have little choice but to use them since there’s no reasonable bus to Microsoft and transit in Sammamish is almost nonexistent. The P&R had plenty of empty spaces when I was a couple times, so it seems to be built for growth and shuttles. As to whether that’s “fair” to the taxpayers and a model for ST3, I don’t know. But I’m pretty certain people in Issaquah would say, “Yes, it’s a great use of our tax money.” And the future Link stations will have enough problems providing space for Link riders, never mind shuttle riders. So there the competition will be more acute.

  4. Eliminate cash fares. Sell every ORCA card in envelope with card-sized mirror tag-so both can be reloaded in same slot. In packet including everybody’s license tabs.

    Fare-inspect P&R’s with remote card-readers. If they don’t exist, have typical employer here invent them. In return for ORCA cards for their employees.

    In some places, public transit gets legal monopoly. Also think black windowed unmarked buses are weirdly bad citizenship. Suggest not only privilege, but willful separation from Earthlings. I mean rest of the community. Anybody remember those morons who committed mass suicide to get free comet tickets?

    Rather than vet these IT riders (which every male dog knows is a very bad thing to do to somebody) best all around solution is to increase public transit to places like South Lake Union. Whose economy will also benefit. In return for not seeking a legal monopoly. The “And Have Them Pay For It” part now has official precedent. Though we do have to put a Van Gogh on every ORCA card. Or use plastic that smells good.

    Mark Dublin

    1. The parking garages could require an ORCA to enter or exit. The parking fee would then be transferable to transit fare. Cost of collecting the parking fee would be minimal (after the system is reprogrammed) and a commuter who transfers to a private bus system would be contributing to the cost of constructing and maintaining the parking facility.

      1. I support this, but note cost of collecting is not free. there is the cost to install and maintain a gate, and cost to enforce. If parking fee is only 2 or 3 bucks a day, that wouldn’t even cover the cost of charging for parking .

    2. Well sure but the thing is, the funny thing about transit is that nobody really wants to use it.

      That’s right.

      What worker of any of these IT companies would be caught dead sharing a meandering Metro route with crazy bag ladies and smelly homeless people when the Company will happily shell out thousands of dollars for a direct motorcoach?

      I think transit is a generally good thing. But it has a serious image and time problem. For example, for my 16 mile commute from Federal Way to Burien my car takes 30 minutes on a good day, 45 on a bad day, and the bus takes an hour and a half and 2 transfers. And the last time i used the bus to get home it literally stank. The same smell on each bus. And I used to love using the bus to go to town… But not anymore.

      1. Presumably more people would opt for the express bus if it were more competitive with the shuttle. Seattle is still pretty “young” when it comes to rapid transit, and you can’t really expect people to ride what effectively doesn’t (yet) exist. Google has 22-40 minutes peak to drive and 45 minutes scheduled transit time with a transfer penalty that you have to leave earlier to reliably get somewhere on time, so of course it makes more sense to take the employee shuttles. SLU street car runs every 15 minutes morning peak which isn’t all that frequent. If the streetcars were run more like people movers coming every few minutes, even if they’re slow, that could help a lot, IMHO.

      2. The same riders who crowd the 545 to bursting. And the 550 and 255. The shuttles go where direct bus routes don’t.

        Meandering routes are becoming fewer and fewer as Metro reorganizes. Smelly homeless people occur on only certain routes, which largely aren’t the routes that go to tech jobs. The E is perhaps the largest route that does both, and it’s about the only route in north Seattle that some people avoid.

      3. During rush hour it’s standing room only packed basically with the same type of people you’d expect to ride a tech shuttle.

        Though the 545 also has a robust ‘reverse commute’ of students heading to Bellevue College

      4. In my experience, the current generation of tech workers are less snobbish about public transit than virtually any other group of rich people in our society. They prefer the private motorcoaches because they’re more direct and comfortable and (especially) because they have good wifi that enables them to get work done. But I think by and large they’re willing to use transit if it’s the best option available. As Mike and others note, this is obvious to anyone who rides the 545, 550, etc.

    3. Rather than vet these IT riders (which every male dog knows is a very bad thing to do to somebody)

      Does anyone understand this? What could this possibly mean?

      1. Veterinarians castrating domestic dogs. Man About Dog, a delightful film about three boys and a racing dog in Northern Ireland, has a short scene about that, as well as a hooky booky (a shady betting-broker).

  5. This reminds me of the issue with public education. All the wealthy send their children to private school and thus reduce money available to public education (schools are funded based on attendance). Here we have Amazon using the park and ride but metro gets no fare box revenue.. so we are now starving our public transportation.
    This shouldn’t be allowed.

    1. Actually, assuming that Amazon gives its employees free transit passes, like the other tech companies do (which I’m not sure about), Metro actually is getting farebox revenue, whether the passengers are riding Metro shuttles or not.

      1. Free access to transit and they don’t use it. What’s that saying about beauty being wasted on the young?

      2. It’s saying that they’re throwing a free benefit away. And realistically, if every single one of them did take transit, the agencies would require more vehicles, and that would be a net loss because fares don’t cover the full cost of operating them, and bulk-discount passes especially don’t.

    2. All the wealthy send their children to private school and thus reduce money available to public education

      No, the size of the pie isn’t reduced. Lower overall enrollment means more money available per student. Since the wealthy are pulling students out of schools in neighborhoods that tend to be well funded this directs more funds to less advantaged schools.
      In the case of P&R “poaching” there is some loss in overall transit revenue. Yes the tech companies may provide ORCA cards to employees but they’d be doing that anyway. The solution is paid parking. As others suggest giving a credit for using transit makes sense. But the public is always outraged over being asked to pay for something they previously received as a government handout. Same thing with toll roads.

      1. That’s actually not the case. Funding for education is based on enrollment otherwise a school of 300 would have the same budget as one with 2300.

      2. “Since the wealthy are pulling students out of schools in neighborhoods that tend to be well funded”

        Many wealthy and middle-class families in Seattle put their kids in private schools because the public schools are just average or they’re afraid of majority-minority schools. But in the Eastside and northshore where the public schools are among the best in the country, similar parents think the public schools are good enough for their kids. So the better-funded districts get more public-school students. And many parents moved to the districts (nowadays from China) specifically because of their public schools.

      3. No, that isn’t true. money for schools is strictly based on enrollment…you don’t get the same pot if your number of students goes down by 40%.

      4. I’ll try to make this clear. The size of the pot doesn’t change. You pay the same taxes regardless of whether you send your kid to private school or public school. The tax base is the same! So if there’s only 300 students in public school because 2,000 have moved to private schools then almost 7X the money is available to the public school per student. Getting pretty far out in the weeds as to how this pertains to transit but if the public sector is loosing a significant portion of the market despite being highly subsidized then maybe “government is not the solution to our problem”. FWIW, school vouchers have been proposed to allow a freedom of choice to those dissatisfied with public education. Many see that as a “give away” to the rich that already send their kids to private school. But what if, like the low income ORCA subsidy, vouchers zeroed out at or near the level of median income?

      5. The solution is paid parking.

        Yeah, this is the core of the problem. It’s a scarce commodity and Metro/ST gives it away. Of course people are going to take advantage. Trying to come up with some sort of enforcement scheme is an option, of course, but really it just further illustrates the absurdity of the underlying policy choice.

  6. Using Eastgate P&R improves the utility of the shuttle service for more reasons beyond the fact that it’s easy parking. Having public transportation available as a backstop means people who normally ride the shuttle have the option of taking a Metro bus if their phone indicates that the shuttle is going to be 30 minutes late, of if they’re late getting to the P&R and just miss the shuttle. It also allows people attending evening activities downtown to take the company shuttle to work in the morning, and Metro/Sound Transit back.

    Furthermore, some of the people who ride the shuttle do arrive by bus, and switching the pick-up point to an off-site lot with worse bus service would make the service much more difficult to use.

  7. I’d say Bellevue College students parking in there is a bigger problem than tech shuttle commuters.

  8. When Sound Transit went looking for parking in Bellevue to replace lost capacity at South Bellevue P&R, there were no nearby alternatives.

    Uh, maybe because it was wedged between a cliff and a swamp has something to do with no other nearby parking? It has no walk shed and is difficult to reach even by car. To-wit, tech shuttles use Eastgate.

      1. Newcastle is far from nearby both geographically and practically (i.e. nobody is going to drive to the Newcastle commercial district to commute into DT Seattle unless they live in Newcastle). Mercer Island has little available parking and even entities that might want to monetize their open stalls, such as Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would be strongly opposed by the NIMBY faction on M.I. The Island was the obvious choice to replace the Swamp and Ride but M.I. wants more transit parking only if off islanders are excluded.

  9. Freeway park-and-ride demand is mostly related to having HOV lanes. If there was no public bus service at Eastgate, the lot would still be popular. Conversely, if there were no HOV lanes, employer buses would be much less likely to use it. Express bus services would also be substantially reduced because of lower demand.

    It’s unfortunate that park-and-ride is mostly considered a link to transit. It really is more linked to the HOV system. We should probably be building and maintaining garages with highway money and not transit money.

    If we do use transit money to build and maintain park-and-ride, the transit operator should look to recover the cost with parking fees. If the public really wants free lots, then the public should probably pay for them with highway money!

    1. If you kept the HOV ramps and stopped the bus service, Eastgate wouldn’t be full. I don’t think there would be nearly enough carpools to use that garage.
      Everyone I know that uses P&Rs use them to catch a bus. People that carpool tend to meet up in neighborhoods. Perhaps that would change if the Eastside didn’t have a solid express bus network, but I think you are discounting the draw of express buses.

  10. Of course the transit agencies should charge a fee for parking. They are giving something of value away for free. It is politically difficult to do so and they are conservative. It could have been done before smart cards; it may be more elegant with smart cards. Note the primary shortage is not of parking spaces but of service hours. On the East Coast, transit parking has had fees for decadese. It is especially hard to see ST build costly structured parking at Link stations that should be in or become pedestrian-oriented urban places where local transit will have to carry most of the riders and go throuhg park-and-ride generated traffic. The parking next to the Northgate Link station is below grade and will cost many thousands per space. Note that they ask themselves to use cost-effectiveness in the allocation of access funds: http://www.soundtransit.org/sites/default/files/documents/pdf/about/board/resolutions/2013/Resolution_R2013-03_-_Attachment_A_-_Final.pdf

  11. When you reduce the availability of parking by putting people on private transport, it means a lower demand for metro buses…which in turn will eventually reduce the frequency…which in turn leads to fewer dollars in the fare box…

  12. The urbanist in my mind agrees fully with many of the comments here, that we should be charging (more) for parking in these park & rides. I’m not sure how this would affect vanpool ridership along my route (North Seattle to Paine Field). There are quite a bit of vanpools that meet in the Green Lake and Northgate P&Rs to head north, and I assume the main reason is that this half hour ride in the van would be about 2 hours if I were to do it on buses (not to mention with about 40 minutes of walking until the 2nd Swift line opens in 2019).

    Given that I-5 isn’t tolled and parking isn’t exactly scarce up there, will people end up just ditching vanpools if they have to pay to park in the P&R? Vanpools aren’t perfect, but it’s an improvement over sending single occupancy vehicles along that route.

    1. As long as parking is significantly cheaper than parking downtown, and/or there is a significant time benefit from carpooling in HOV lanes, I’d imagine charging for parking should have minimal impact on vanpool use.

      1. This is a reverse commute vanpool. Parking in Paine Field is ‘free’. I honestly have no clue what the benefits of running vanpools downtown would be, given how well served downtown is by fixed route transit.

        For what it’s worth, at least half of the vans I see at this park & ride are Community Transit, so I’m assuming that most people who are using vanpools there are doing a reverse commute. I have no idea how many of the parked cars are there for vanpools.

  13. I use that p&r. The real problem for the p&r is people using the p&r who work in the buildings next door and the BCC students. I think they all get charged for parking and so are willing to risk an occasional ticket for otherwise free parking.

    The image of the rich, ‘too-good-for-transit’ shuttlers is not helped by them crossing the street on the side with no crosswalk, either.

    1. Preventing BCC students from using the P&R feels unenforceable without charging for parking for everybody. The P&R is spread out enough that it’s just not practical to have someone monitoring the lot following each and every person from their car to the bus stop. I’d be shocked if anybody actually gets ticketed for parking at Eastgate P&R for BCC. Even then, one cannot prove that a person who gets out of his car and walks towards Bellevue College isn’t going to be riding the bus after all. Maybe he just missed a 271 headed to DT Bellevue, and is running to catch up with it (which, considering the 271’s circuitousness coming out of Eastgate, is not all that difficult to do). Yes, it’s unlikely, but the point is, you can’t prove it.

    1. Yes, this. If it costs you as much to park and take company shuttle or carpool as if you park and take transit, the allure of company shuttle/carpool would be less. Many will still choose it but:
      1. Some would choose transit, especially if the service is more frequent than the company shuttle
      2. At least the public is getting some money back for the very expensive parking garage we paid to have built. Name me one other piece of public infrastructure where the public pays $70K for it yet we give it away for free to be used by only 1 or 2 people per day?

  14. All the major tech companies that offer shuttles also give out bus passes, so requiring an Orca card wouldn’t stop employees from parking there to take private shuttles. Anyway, does it help anyone if those people switch to using actual public transit? The employers are paying a bulk rate for the passes either way, so there’s no additional revenue for the transit agency.

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