Park-and-rides

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This parking structure serves a Los Angeles Metro Gold Line station. Photo by Flickr user LA Wad.

Introduction

Many transit agencies choose to provide parking lots for passengers to use when they drive to transit stops or stations. These park-and-rides can range from small surface lots to large aboveground (or in some cases undergound) structures. Park-and-ride lots provide an alternative to driving the entire length of a commute, which serves to reduce vehicle miles traveled and the associated safety risks and pollution. Park-and-rides can reduce congestion and parking demand in central business districts and make transit more effective in low-density areas with few people living within walking distance of stations. However, park-and-rides require a lot of land and are expensive to build and maintain. It can sometimes be difficult to measure the “success” of park-and-ride lots because parking utilization is not necessarily indicative of whether it attracts or supports transit ridership.<ref name="tcrp95">Turnbull, K. F. et al. (2004). “Traveler Response to Transportation System Changes Handbook, Third Edition: Chapter 3, Park-and-Ride/Pool.” Transportation Cooperative Research Program.</ref> The Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) has developed a guidebook to help transit agencies through the process of planning, implementing, and operating park-and-ride programs.

Planning

Park-and-rides are major capital investments often slated to last 40 year; as such, they should not be taken lightly. An agency looking to implement park-and-rides should have both a long-term plan and site-specific plans to ensure that facilities are built or leased as part of a larger vision.

Local Contexts

Park-and-rides are heavily dependent upon local land use and transit characteristics. Park-and-ride facilities are most practical where land is available and cheap; using eminent domain to create parking is likely to elicit community opposition, and in expensive areas park-and-rides might not be good investments. In addition, park-and-rides should be concentrated around high-service transit lines, which are most likely to attract drivers.

Long-Range Planning

Some agencies create specific park-and-ride master plans, while others incorporate the facilities into broader plans. Either way, long-range planning is essential for determining the best places for the facilities. Long-range transportation plans are typically created by regional planning organizations, so transit agencies need to work closely with these groups. Highlighting potential reductions in congestion and emissions can win support for park-and-rides at the regional level.

Site Planning

Site plans help formalize the planning process for individual park-and-ride facilities. These plans can include principles on location of facilities. Park-and-rides should be built at areas highly accessible by transit and car, far from city center, and before motorists would encounter congestion or tolls. Site plans also define the size of a facility. Size can be based both on estimated demand and a transit agency’s goals; some agencies want to maximize lot size to encourage transit ridership, while others want to balance ridership targets with the desire to not add additional car trips.

Implementation

Once the decision to incorporate park-and-rides into agency strategy is made, it is necessary to address implementation. Park-and-rides need to be safe, convenient, and efficient in order to be a worthwhile investment. A variety of considerations go into park-and-ride implementation, such as whether to build or lease and how to design the facility.

Build vs. Lease

In an effort to implement a park-and-ride strategy quickly and cheaply, some agencies choose to lease existing lots rather than build new ones. Spaced can be leased from other public organizations, private entities such as malls or theaters, or non-profits like churches. While leasing is an attractive short-term option, it has drawbacks. Lease agreements can be terminated with little notice, leaving agencies scrambling to maintain parking supply that customers have grown to rely on. In addition, constructing a new facility allows the agency to design it exactly to its specifications.

Design

There are a vast number of factors to keep in mind when designing a park-and-ride. The most obvious issue is what kind of parking it required - beyond standard car spaces, agencies must provide ADA-accessible parking and should consider parking for carpool and carshare vehicles, bicycles, and pick-up/drop-off. It is also necessary to consider the type of facility to provide. Surface lots are cheapest to construct, particularly in low-density areas with cheap land. As land values rise, it may make sense to consider parking structures. If land is worth more than $100 per square foot, underground parking may be cost effective.

Operation

It is of course not enough to simply build or lease a park-and-ride; the facility needs an ongoing commitment to operations.

Legal Issues

To maintain order at its park-and-rides, an agency must set clear rules for behavior and display them prominently at the facilities. Many of these rules will concern who can park in the facilities and for how long. Enforcement can be handled by local police, transit agency police, or other agency staff.

Park-and-rides come with significant insurance liabilities that must be considered during planning. Insurance costs should be factored into the operating budget and all insurance claims must be carefully tracked.

Routine Maintenance

While individual needs will vary, most park-and-ride facilities will have a variety of maintenance requirements, including lighting and electrical systems, cleaning and trash removal, and general facility upkeep. Facilities with extra amenities like customer waiting areas, employee break rooms, or restrooms will have additional maintenance needs.

Security

Security is necessarily to protect customers, staff, and property. At the lowest level, CCTV can be used to monitor facilities. Roaming security guards traveling between sites can provide additional protection. In extreme cases a facility could have a dedicated on-site security officer, but it is rare for park-and-rides to have security risks great enough to justify this. In addition to responsive security, proactive security checks should be conducted periodically to identify risks such as broken lights or obstructed security cameras.

In-House vs. Contracting

Park-and-ride operations can be handled in house, contracted out, or some done in combination. Running operations in-house offers more control but requires more intensive staffing. When decided how to manage operations, an agency should project the cost of each option while keeping in mind current resources. One common solution is to manage daily operations such as customer service, parking fee collection, and security in-house while outsourcing less frequent operations such as pavement repair and landscaping. Every agency has different resources and needs and should make an individualized decision about operations.

Performance Metrics

Like all transit agency ventures, park-and-rides should be constantly evaluated using concrete performance metrics. Three main metrics are used to measure park-and-ride performance:

  • Utilization rate - The utilization rate is the percentage of available parking spaces occupied at a certain time. The most robust counts are conducted constantly using automatic counters, but annual or semiannual one-day counts can be enough to give the agency a rough idea of whether or not capacity matches demand.
  • Access mode share - If an agency is concerned with reducing the amount of driving alone, then it should measure access mode share, which captures the percentage of riders arriving at a park-and-ride by modes such as driving alone, carpooling, being dropped off, walking, and biking.
  • Daily cost per space - In order to measure the resource needs of a facility and manage operations and expansions, transit agencies need a clear picture of cost per space. This number is generally calculated by dividing the total annual operating cost of a facility by the number of spaces available and the number of days a year the lot is open.

Pricing

Some agencies choose to charge a fee for use of park-and-ride facilities, while others provide free parking. Free parking incentivizes use of the facilities, and in some cases is mandated by law. Charging should lower demand, which can be desirable if facilities are operating at or near capacity. Charging for parking can also help offset the costs of building and operating park-and-rides, though it is unusual for an agency to fund a park-and-ride program entirely through parking fees. If a park-and-ride facility charges a fee, care needs to be taken to ensure that riders do not simply use free spaces in the surrounding area.

Title VI does not mandate that agencies consider the equity impacts of parking pricing; however, some agencies chose to voluntary conduct equity analyses and implement mitigation strategies such as keeping some spots free and providing low-cost high-occupancy vehicle parking.

Decision-Making Toolbox to Plan and Manage Park-and-Ride Facilities for Public Transportation: Guidebook on Planning and Managing Park-and-Ride

This article is largely based off of the TCRP Decision-Making Toolbox to Plan and Manage Park-and-Ride Facilities for Public Transportation: Guidebook on Planning and Managing Park-and-Ride

References

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Additional Reading

California Department of Transportation. (2010). "Park and Ride Program Research Guide."

This handbook from Caltrans offers a wealth of information about how to implement a park and ride program. It includes key considerations about obtaining land, the laws that apply to typical park and ride projects, and possible sources of funding for them. This guide also includes references to Caltrans’ park and ride coordinators and other divisions that can offer technical assistance to local planners interested in creating a park and ride program.

Turnbull, K. F., Pratt, R. H., Evans, J.E., & Levinson, H. S. (2004). “Traveler Response to Transportation System Changes Handbook, Third Edition: Chapter 3, Park-and-Ride/Pool.” Transit Cooperative Research Program.

This report, sponsored by the Federal Transit Administration, focuses primarily on remote or suburban park-and-ride services. It also goes into detail about how park-and-ride facilities complement commuter rail systems and it describes the problems of measuring the success or effectiveness of these facilities. The report also offers case studies of how park-and-ride facilities interact with the different transit modes - light rail, heavy rail, bus rapid transit and other bus services, and park-and-pools. The report examines mode choice for arriving at park-and-ride stations by distance of origin to the destination, as well as other usage characteristics.

Center for Neighborhood Technology. (2006). "Paved Over: Surface Parking Lots or Opportunities for Tax-Generating, Sustainable Development?"

This report by the Center for Neighborhood Technology focuses specifically on Chicago transit and its park-and-ride facilities. CNT is an advocacy group that works for sustainable urban communities and this report takes a critical look at surface parking lots around 9 of Chicago’s suburban Metra stations. The report examines the potential to develop those sites according to the principles of transit-oriented development and the possibility for reaping greater benefits from those sites than would be possible as simple parking lots.