On Thursday, the Sound Transit Board of Directors approved a revamped permit parking program for Sound Transit-operated parking facilities. The program will allow Sound Transit to designate and reserve up to 50% of parking spaces at in-demand locations for park-and-ride permitholders. The program is anticipated to begin at fourteen park-and-ride locations this October, but could eventually expand to include more in the future.
Permit Parking Program Structure
The board has authorized Sound Transit administrators to designate up to 50% of parking stalls at eligible permit parking locations for permitholders. That doesn’t mean that each location will initially reach the 50% target since the number of spaces will be determined in large part by market demand for permits. Active enforcement of permit parking spaces will be on weekdays. After 8:30am, designated permit stalls will be open to general use if not occupied by a permitholder.
- Eight park-and-ride locations at Sounder stations (i.e., Mukilteo, Edmonds, Tukwila, Kent, Auburn, Sumner, Puyallup, and Lakewood);
- Two park-and-ride locations at Link stations (i.e., Angle Lake and Tukwila International Boulevard);
- The new Northgate parking garage; and
- Three other regional transit center park-and-rides (i.e., Federal Way, Issaquah, and Mercer Island).
During the initial program startup, Sound Transit will offer free permits to carpoolers (HOVs) while solo drivers (SOVs) will pay a regular monthly fee for their permits. Carpoolers and riders who qualify for ORCA LIFT will be eligible for reduced permit fees to prioritize parking access for more riders and fostering equity for lower-income riders. A fee structure should soon be established based upon market surveys, but Sound Transit plans to ensure that fees are enough to cover annual administration and enforcement of the program (estimated at $190 per year per stall). According to the adopted policy, the average permit cost should be $90 per month, but could vary by location from $30 to $150 per month. Permits should go on sale beginning in September.
Permits will be prioritized for carpoolers over solo drivers at all locations. Residents in the Sound Transit taxing district will also get the first crack at permits since they already pay taxes to fund the transit system, including parking facilities. Eventually, Sound Transit may expand the permit program for non-residents of the Sound Transit taxing district, but a specific time has not been specified at this stage.
Past Pilot Permit Parking Efforts
The permit program isn’t the first foray into reserved parking for a fee by Sound Transit. A six-month pilot effort was launched in 2014 at several parking facilities operated by Sound Transit, which provided reserved permit parking spaces to both solo drivers and carpoolers. At the time, permitholders were able to obtain parking permits on a quarterly basis paying $5 for carpool permits and $33 for solo driver permits. The program was fairly successful with more than 500 participants in the program and 1,400 individuals applying for permits, greatly outstripping supply. Following that program, Sound Transit moved to expand permit parking by designating permit parking spaces at nine locations (all Link light rail and Sounder commuter rail stations) where parking utilitization was 97% or greater. Permits were made available exclusively to carpoolers with more than 280 participating permitholders.
Ability to Expand and Adjust Permit Parking Program
In the future, Sound Transit will be able to add more permit parking locations and adjust certain aspects of the permit program at individual locations. Sound Transit administrators are authorized to expand the permit parking program to other locations if they meet or exceed the 90% parking utilization on weekdays for three consecutive months or where new facilities associated with a light rail station are projected to meet or exceed 90% parking utilization within a year of the station opening. Sound Transit administrators will also be authorized to adjust the permit program at individual locations in terms of pricing and number of permit spaces (again, up to 50%) depending upon several factors. These include the following considerations, according to the adopted policy:
- “The number of customers on the wait list for either SOV, or HOV parking permits at each facility should not exceed 15% of the total quantity of such parking permits issued.”
- “The total utilization of permit parking at each facility should not regularly (for three consecutive months) exceed effective capacity of 97% of stalls reserved for permit holders during the enforcement period.”
- “SOV permit prices should remain competitive with market rates for monthly parking available to transit riders.”
Benefits Could Be More Than Maximizing Rider Access By Parking
The program is really about efficient access to parking facilities for riders, giving preference to those carpooling and with lower incomes who particularly need access to transit. In this way, the program should provide equitable outcomes and grow overall ridership while discouraging parking by people who aren’t necessarily riding on transit. Sound Transit estimates that the permit program should generate over $2 million in annual net revenue, which will exceed administration and enforcement costs. Extra revenue will go to the System Access Fund, which directs money to improving overall station access and safety at Sound Transit facilities. Pedestrian and bike access improvements are examples of this. Given yearly billion-dollar capital budgets, the permit parking revenues will be comparatively meager, but could grow substantially in future years as the permit parking expands and matures with larger permit fee contributions going toward similar investments.
Stephen is a professional urban planner in Puget Sound with a passion for sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He is especially interested in how policies, regulations, and programs can promote positive outcomes for communities. With stints in great cities like Bellingham and Cork, Stephen currently lives in Seattle. He primarily covers land use and transportation issues and has been with The Urbanist since 2014.