Last week, the King County Council approved a new King County Metro program to implement permit parking at 10 in-demand County-owned park-and-ride facilities on weekdays. The program would retain at least half of all parking spaces at each of the regulated parking facilities as free for general use while the remaining spaces would be available to solo and carpool permitholders. The permit parking program was approved on a de facto party-line vote with Democrats supporting it as a means to expand transit access while Republicans opposed it.

“We have a good problem to have and that problem is that our transit system is in very high demand while other systems across the country are seeing declining ridership,” said Councilmember Claudia Balducci (District 6), sponsor of the legislation. “But then what happens is that people want to use it. We have some scarcity around service and access.”

Councilmember Balducci said that she receives a lot of complaints about parking access at park-and-rides. Pointing to Mercer Island, she said that lots there are filling up before 7am on weekdays. She identified two key problems with this: fairness to riders and impacts to transit service.

“People who don’t have the freedom to shift their schedule are completely aced out of being able to use that parking structure,” Councilmember Balducci said. “It means that parents who have to drop their kids off at 8:55am when the elementary school starts have no chance of using that parking facility or our transit system. Seniors, people who have might odd work hours, who don’t have any reason to be going into town at 7am in the morning, have no access to that facility.” She also said that this conundrum is leading to corresponding bus trips to fill up to capacity at earlier hours, putting heavy strain on the system and pressuring Metro to more add trips during the peak of the peak when equipment and operators are constrained.

The argument she was laying out is a classic tragedy of the commons.

How the program is structured

Metro reports that as of the fourth quarter of 2019, “27 of the 63 permanent lots countywide, and 10 of the 22 lots owned and operated by King County Metro are at or above 90% full on a typical weekday.” The permit parking program has been structured around using the 90% utilization on weekdays as a baseline threshold. Therefore, the following 10 park-and-ride facilities owned by Metro will initially be incorporated into the program:

Parking utilization, parking stalls, and maximum number of permits by location. (King County)
Parking utilization, parking stalls, and maximum number of permits by location. (King County)

Up to 50% of parking stalls at the facilities will be available to permitholders with the remaining spaces available for general use at no cost. Permit parking will be in force on weekdays from 4am to 10am. After 10am on weekdays and all day on weekends, all spaces at park-and-ride facilities will be free.

The parking permit program is broken into three tiers for permitholders:

  • Free monthly carpool permits (where two or more riders carpool to the park-and-ride together);
  • Variable single-occupant monthly permits by location; and
  • $20 ORCA LIFT single-occupant monthly permits for low-income riders.

Disbursement of parking permits will be prioritized toward ORCA LIFT riders as the program rolls out. The initial permit fees by park-and-ride facility are as indicated in the table below:

Parking permit costs by location and type. (King County)
Parking permit costs by location and type. (King County)

In order to hold a permit, riders will need to demonstrate regular ridership of transit. Ongoing enforcement of parking will be carried out by Republic Parking, which currently manages Sound Transit’s permit parking program. Violations will result in $20 fine for the first three citations. Violations committed a fourth time will result in impoundment and another $20 fine. However, Metro will be restrained from actively collecting debts through a collection agency until a violator has reached $300 or more. Fines could be increased by Metro in the future.

In addition to Metro and Sound Transit, many park-and-ride facilities are owned by the state transportation department. These are often found right next to major highways and heavily used by commuters to access popular bus routes. While Metro appears to have interest in expanding paid parking permits to facilities like Eastgate Park-and-Ride, Kingsgate Park-and-Ride, and Green Lake Park-and-Ride, state law does not allow Metro to do so; only carpool permits are allowed at this time.

In tandem with these changes, Metro will be cutting down on the maximum period of time that vehicles can be parked at a Metro park-and-ride facility. The maximum parking period will be 48 consecutive hours, a full day less than the 72 consecutive hours currently allowed.

The program will be profitable

Projected revenue by biennium. (King County)
Projected revenue by biennium. (King County)

Metro expects that the program will be profitable with revenues greatly increasing after the initial implementation process in 2019 and 2020. During the first biennium, Metro projects a revenue surplus of over $520,000. This number is lower than following biennium, primarily because of one-time startup costs. In the 2021-2022 biennium, Metro projects a surplus of over $1.27 million.

Surplus revenue will be heavily directed to funding park-and-ride access efforts. A major aspect of this is evaluating, planning, and implementing technology to provide real-time information on park-and-ride parking and access data to riders. Conceptually, Metro has identified several possible features to be deployed:

  • “Real-time parking availability information on mobile platforms (i.e., through a mobile app or website)”;
  • “Real-time parking availability information onsite at park and ride lots via variable messaging signage”;
  • “Parking guidance systems to support wayfinding and help customers locate available spaces”.

Additionally, surplus revenue will be used on access improvements for bike and pedestrian facilities to transit as well as planning and constructing new and expanded park-and-ride facilities.

The program will go into effect in August. Riders can apply for a permit now.

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