While Sound Transit buses have grown in size to meet demand, capacity at park-and-ride lots in Snohomish County has barely changed. Riders board a Seattle bound bus at the Lynnwood Transit Center Thursday. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald)

While Sound Transit buses have grown in size to meet demand, capacity at park-and-ride lots in Snohomish County has barely changed. Riders board a Seattle bound bus at the Lynnwood Transit Center Thursday. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald)

With commuter lots clogged, Sound Transit plans parking fees

The agency is proposing a permit system to reserve spaces at park-and-ride locations.

EVERETT — Overcrowding is not just a problem on the roads, but also plagues the park-and-ride lots that are essential for many in Snohomish County to access the regional transit system.

Some riders arrive early to secure one of the free first-come, first-serve parking spaces. Those who reach the lots after they are filled, which is often before 8 a.m., are forced to look for parking elsewhere or give up on transit for the day and instead drive themselves to their job.

A proposal by Sound Transit to sell parking permits at a handful of park-and-rides, including two in Snohomish County, could offer relief to commuters willing to pay for a guaranteed spot.

To manage demand, Sound Transit has slowly been moving toward charging riders who use the park-and-rides, which the agency says would offer “increased certainty and ensure more equitable access to parking.”

“The (Sound Transit) board has taken the position that over time we will seek payment for parking,” said Peter Rogoff, CEO of Sound Transit, during a recent County Council committee meeting. “We should face the reality that we can never build enough parking for the demand.”

Some skip the stress of looking for parking and instead arrive by bike at the Lynnwood Transit Center. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald)

Some skip the stress of looking for parking and instead arrive by bike at the Lynnwood Transit Center. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald)

In 2016, Sound Transit launched a parking permit program for carpools at nine King County transit centers. Carpools are charged $5 a month and are guaranteed a spot during the morning rush. King County Metro Transit has also initiated a similar program.

Now Sound Transit is looking to expand the program to include solo drivers and add the Edmonds and Mukilteo Sounder stations to the list of locations with paid permit parking.

“A parking permit program for commuters who drive alone and park at our busy transit facilities would mean those commuters would no longer have to drive around looking for parking,” said Kimberly Reason, spokeswoman for Sound Transit. “Solo drivers with parking permits would rest easy knowing that they would no longer have to jockey for a parking space — a major transit commuter benefit as demand … only keeps growing.”

Prices for these permits could range from $15 per month, which would cover administrative costs, to up to $90 to match market rates. Rogoff has said any paid parking program should include a subsidy for low-income riders.

The parking permits would be optional, and at least half of the spaces would remain available to riders without a permit. To qualify, drivers must take transit at least three times a week.

Data collected by Sound Transit in March found the Mukilteo Station had a daily occupancy rate of 97 percent and at the Edmonds Station the rate ranged from 81 percent to 97 percent.

While Sound Transit buses have grown in size to meet demand, capacity at park-and-ride lots in Snohomish County has barely changed. Riders board a Seattle-bound bus at the Lynnwood Transit Center Thursday. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald)

While Sound Transit buses have grown in size to meet demand, capacity at park-and-ride lots in Snohomish County has barely changed. Riders board a Seattle-bound bus at the Lynnwood Transit Center Thursday. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald)

Board approval still is needed to expand permit parking to solo drivers, but if authorized could begin later this year.

Community Transit, which owns about half of the park-and-ride lots in the county, has no plans to start charging for parking anytime soon.

“We are waiting to see how it works with Sound Transit and Metro,” said Martin Munguia, a spokesman for Community Transit.

A few years ago the Snohomish County transit agency tested out permit parking but “it didn’t really take,” said Munguia.

Sound Transit had more success with a pilot parking program the agency rolled out in 2015. According to a report, nearly 70 percent of participants were highly satisfied with the program.

However, any Sound Transit permit parking program won’t include some of the county’s most crowded park-and-rides, such as the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center, Lynnwood Transit Center and Ash Way. Those locations fall under the jurisdiction of the state Department of Transporation, and current law prohibits the charging of parking at state-built lots. But even if state law did change, convincing riders to pay for the now free amenity is a hard sell.

“More parking would be better,” said Daniel Lee, 30, who arrived at the Lynnwood Transit Center just after 7:30 a.m. where nearly all of the 1,350 spots were taken.

Despite barely grabbing one of the last spots, Lee wasn’t sure he’d buy a permit.

“Depends on the price,” he said.

Lizz Giordano: 425-374-4165; egiordano@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @lizzgior.

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