The Puget Sound Regional Council, the regional authority charged with managing growth, published some interesting results on subsidized transportation from their Spring 2014 Regional Travel Study. The PSRC found that there is a massive imbalance between workers receiving subsidized parking and subsidized transit benefits.

A bit more than half of all workers in the Puget Sound received some sort of subsidized parking benefit. When those who were offered subsidized parking, but declined to use it were counted, the number rose to 60% of all employees. When employees were offered subsidized parking, nearly 88% elected to use it. Subsidized parking comes in a number of forms: free parking, partial or full payment of parking costs in pay parking lots, and Federal benefits in the form of the parking subsidy.

However, the 34% who were not offered a parking subsidy does seem staggering considering that the majority of Puget Sound residents commute to work by car. This suggests two things:

  1. Part-time employees may not be entitled to the same level of benefits as regular employees, and
  2. A substantial number of companies out there that do not elect to offer any form of parking subsidy to their employees. Most of these are likely to be large organizations or based in city center locations like Downtown Seattle or Downtown Bellevue.

On the other hand, subsidized transit benefits appear to be much rarer in the Puget Sound. Only 29% of respondents indicated that they could receive subsidized parking. And of that 29%, only half said that they actually used their subsidized transit benefits. A large share, however did not know if subsidized transit was even available. While this latter group skews the data, it seems fair to assume that the true number of Puget Sound employees who could use some sort of subsidized transit benefitis closer to 35%. However, the most striking piece of data here is that 85% of commuters do not–or cannot–take transit using a subsidized transit benefit.

The PSRC further indicated that 30% of Puget Sound commuters were offered “other commuter benefits” like bicycle parking, vanpooling, telecommuting, and other similar options and programs. However, most commuters did not elect to use these.

Perhaps the most interesting takeaway from the PSRC’s study is that when people are offered a transit subsidy benefit, half of them will choose transit. If this benefit were expanded as a standard in the same way that parking subsidies are, the number of commuters using transit would almost certainly skyrocket.

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Stephen is an urban planner with a passion for promoting sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He advocates for smart policies, regulations, and implementation programs that enhance urban environments by committing to quality design, accommodating growth, providing a diversity of housing choices, and adequately providing public services. Stephen primarily writes about land use and transportation issues.