The Policy Folly of Park and Rides

Over at Human Transit, Jarrett has an excellent post detailing why dedicated park & ride facilities (as opposed to shared use of existing parking lots that have another principal function – like church lots) make no sense from either a transportation or land use point of view, especially when there is no charge for parking. We see this absurdity locally, with TriMet charging for card-lock cage bike parking, but allowing autos free parking. (My beef is NOT with charging for bikes, it’s with the free auto parking!)

Historically I think we owe this pattern of development to a degree to the Federal Transit Administration. They used to grade New Starts applications on a metric called TSUB (Transportation System User Benefit) which was essentially a score for how many people you move how far, how quickly. In that formula, boarding a lot of riders from park & rides probably gave you a boost in a score, at least in the early years of operation of your corridor (before TOD built out).

24 responses to “The Policy Folly of Park and Rides”

  1. Clearly there are park&rides that fill up in TriMet’s system. What is stopping them from starting to charge people to park?

    • A TriMet pass costs $100. Parking downtown is $150? If you charge someone $50/mo to park at Sunset TC, why would they bother taking the train?

      • If the lot is 100% full at 10am with a $1 or $2 or $5 charge, then the most # of people that can park there have parked.

        If its 100% full at 7am, with a $0 charge, then the most # of people that can park there have parked

        Is there a benefit to one of these schemes? Clearly the positive cashflow situation is better in terms of revenue. If folks don’t want to park at a given price, they can drive and leave the spot for someone else.

        Not everyone is paying full price for a TriMet pass- some pay as little as $55/year and their company picks up the rest if my brother is to be believed.

  2. That’s the $64,000 dollar question! The defense I’ve heard from TriMet in some meetings when I’ve asked that question is that if we price it, some of those folks will simply continue driving to their ultimate destination (downtown for many).

    That assumes that price is the only dimension of elasticity. Given complaints about congestion, I’m extremely dubious.

    • Chris,

      Well, if the Park-N-Ride is already overfull, aren’t most of those who can’t park already “driving to their ultimate destination”? If Tri-Met puts a modest fee on the lots, some of the people who are currently parking there may indeed decide to ride. But if some of the people who are now driving suddenly can be accommodated, doesn’t it seem that at least some will stop driving?

      I mean, really, trips are fungible. Unless there is some statistically significant bias in favor of long trip riders filling up early and forcing short-trip riders away from the lot — and there may be! — replacing one bus trip with another which was previously made by a different mode is a wash.

      The obvious issue is setting the rate correctly in order to keep the lot full.

      • First of all, they did implement some metered parking at Sunset and Gateway, so a little progress has been made.

        But I’ve read that they’ve done studies and at least some of those who use the closer-in lots could park closer to home. Charging for those lots should encourage those who can to use a different lot and better distribute demand. It would also help to guarantee bus service in exchange for pricing parking, and reserve spaces for carpools (this is done at least at Sunset).

        The real problem is that suburban development is hostile to pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users. Ideally, there would be good service throughout the district and park and rides would only be needed at the edges.

  3. This seems like the ultimate no-brainer. They could use variable pricing to keep the lot at whatever capacity they deem ideal.

  4. If we can improve the bus network and sidewalks, then we can start to charge for parking, but right now I would add ~40 minutes each way to walk to the nearest bus (on sections of road with no sidewalks) then transfer to the MAX. If parking at a MAX stop is too expensive, I’d be forced to drive. I’d love for more TOD to happen around MAX stops on the west side (looking at you Beaverton Creek) but if you overcharge for parking it’s just going to hurt ridership (especially during the wet season).

    • You should also be looking at Sunset TC — that’s what’s supposed to be happening in those empty fields between the TC & Barnes Rd; and also what that “bridge to nowhere” that you pass under on your way to the parking garage is supposed to be connecting.

      • Isn’t there a rather large housing development across Barns Road from Sunset TC? As I recall there’s a large shopping center tucked into one corner of this property that includes a Rite Aid & a Safeway. There was a desire to connect the housing to the TC via footbridge over Barns.

        As for charge or not to charge at Park & Ride lots, a small fee such as $1 or $2 shouldn’t drive away too many users. In the DC area, Metro stations can charge upwards of $4 to $5 per day plus transit fare witch is both time & distance based.

        • Sort of. I made a rough map of the area on google earth, and highlighted what I would guess (and it’s just a guess) of the land in the area that could be developed.


          As far as the cost for parking, $1 – $3 would likely be acceptable, but the question would be enforcement. Would you install gates at the exit? Would it be the honor system?

      • Who owns those fields? How are they zoned? If residential, how does having a freeway in close proximity affect their desirability or development potential?

        Beaverton is putting in lots of midrise housing, both along MAX (Elmonica) and elsewhere (45 central across from Nike campus, and several proposed developments along SW Farmington). OTOH, there are lots of vacant lots close to TCs, including a large one next to Beaverton TC, the aforementioned two lots by Sunset, and the “cricket ground” by Beaverton Creek.

  5. I have been told more than a few times by TriMet managers that their Park & Ride lots along MAX lines are “land banks” for later TOD development. I think this has occurred out Hillsboro way, but have not been out that way for some time. Some places…right next to freeways, are essentially un-developable, as ES points out who would want to live right next to a freeway?

    • Agreed, but I have a few questions…

      1. Witch lots are in the pipeline for development?
      2. If near a freeway, where in relation is it.
      3. How many acres are we talking about at each location?
      4. Are we talking about access to MAX, busses or both?
      5. What about existing connectivity to adjacent neighborhoods for shopping & the like?
      6. Housing density & style?

      • 1. Witch lots are confined to cemetaries and ghostly derelict Victorian houses on hilltops.
        2. Freakways serving witch lots are in abandonment.
        3. Many ogres talk about electro-locution,
        4. and about maximum a-buse-ment,
        5. and existential conjurement of naying head chopmentations,
        6. and horribly dense strangulationisms.

          • Let me try again to answer Sean’s questions,
            numbers 1 thru 6, to be more self-explanatory.

            1. Witch lots restricted to cemetaries, ghastly derelict Victorian mansions upon hilltops.
            2. Freakways serving witch lots follow abandonment.
            3. Ogres and also ogres talk electro-locuation,
            locuation, locuation, locuation.
            4. maximum a-buse-ment arrangements fuming,
            5. existing conjurement of naying head choppings,
            6. horribly dense strangulationisms.

            I hope this answers the questions better,
            if not even less sensical. I’m going Zombie this year.
            DVD movie “Warm Bodies” – Zombie love story.
            Put on list. Arrg!
            Mythical 1-seat ride…quaint. Arrg!

  6. The free auto parking is ridiculous. Especially considering it’s another $30-50k hand out. Something motorists already get in droves. However, there aren’t a lot of options since the Government has forcibly induced sprawl through voluminous subsidies for decades now. We either really make suburbanites suffer (which is coming closer by the day anyway) or society helps them to partially clean up their act (taking transit into the city core for example).

    Now the bike charge situation isn’t only just unfair, it discourages better habits and discourages something far more ideal – someone stowing their bike at the park & ride and riding transit in versus bringing the bike on the train into town. In rush hour this is pretty tough and frustrating – for all involved really.

    As for parking charges they really don’t need to be much, just $25 bucks a month would suffice, that still leaves savings vs a month pass and parking downtown. The other solution is to drive parking prices up downtown or do what really needs to be done – which is start removing some of the parking garages or even some of the on street parking downtown. Anybody that works in a tower downtown can look at the parking garage roofs and realize they’re all not anywhere near full. It’s an utter waste of blocks. We should consolidate that nonsense and wrench up parking anywhere transit serves well – being most of downtown really.

    These ideas care of my brain having recently been to Europe where this type of pricing and consolidation is common – and works exceedingly well.

  7. Right now the “free” parking at (mostly) MAX related park-and-rides allows TriMet to push its MAX product over its bus product.

    MAX riders get nice, very large station facilities, with lots of shelter, seating, Transit Tracker signs, artwork, free parking, landscaping, security. Bus riders get…a sign tacked up to a PGE pole. Oooh, look, in recent years TriMet has put bus stop signs on its own blue poles – PROGRESS!!!

    The cost for each? The same – $2.50.

    If TriMet actually provided a bus service that was attractive to customers, more and more people would walk to a neighborhood bus stop rather than drive to an out-of-the-way MAX station.

    You want to fix park and rides? Fix the damn buses. Until you treat bus service as equal, you might as well call TriMet a “Parking Lot and Light Rail agency, that is forced against its own will to run a few buses.”

    • “Fix the damn buses.”

      Easy for you to say, but how, exactly?

      By buying new ones? Certainly. And I believe Tri-Met is doing so, with the goal of lowering the average age of the fleet to six years or something like that.

      By converting existing Frequent Service Lines to BRT? That will happen for either the 9 or 4 or as an overlay to portions of both and for the 12 on Barbur. If you have other corridors where BRT would be useful — and practical — please state them. I personally think that 82nd is a good candidate, but the important Alberta and Greeley sections of the existing 72 are not nearly wide enough to support BRT, so an existing very useful route might have to be broken. Or the BRT could perhaps be an overlay from Clackamas to the Airport.

      By increasing frequency on existing Frequent Service Lines which are crowded in the off-peak? As the economy improves this is probably the single most cost effective way to increase total ridership since it can be done a coach or two at a time, and I expect everyone supports it.

      By increasing the number of Frequent Service Lines? This is underway for non-frequent service lines which demonstrate crowding in the off-peak but is more expensive than increasing frequency a bit on lines which are already Frequent Service. As a result, it is likely a lower priority at the agency than answering mid-day peaks on the existing FSL’s.

      By increasing frequency on a bus route of any kind which is over-capacity at the peak hours? This is a hard one because it almost always requires adding a new bus and driver to the route, and that’s the most expensive thing Tri-Met does with buses.

      By increasing mid-day frequency on non-frequent lines which have mid-day peaks of congestion, such as residential lines which serve schools? Well, only if your anti-transit Tri-Met hating allies will shut up about “running empty buses”. Otherwise you’ll be having mid-day single-run trippers, which are the second most expensive thing Tri-Met does with buses. It doesn’t require acquiring a new coach because there are peak-only coaches available, but it does require providing an additional driver.

      You see, this “transit planning” thingy is a little harder than the average “civilian” like most of us who post here can even imagine. Complexity; it’s a bitch.

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