King County Metro is betting commuters tired of showing up early and circling park-and-ride lots will pay a premium for a better chance at getting a spot.
Under a plan likely to be approved by the Metropolitan King County Council Wednesday, drivers could pay between $60 and $120 a month for permits at 10 of the busiest park-and-ride lots and garages owned by Metro.
Up to half the spots at each of the lots could eventually be set aside for permit-holders. The spots would be restricted to people with permits arriving from 4 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday and open to all drivers at other hours.
Permits will be offered for Northgate Transit Center, Aurora Village Transit Center and park-and-rides at Bear Creek, Bothell, Kenmore, Redmond, South Kirkland, Tukwila, Issaquah Highlands and Shoreline.
Northgate permits would be the most costly, at $120 per month; Shoreline and Issaquah Highlands would have the lowest $60 monthly rate, and the rest would be $90. At all locations, carpools could get permits for free and people with lower incomes who use the discounted ORCA LIFT program could buy permits for $20.
Metro will initially determine how many spots to set aside based on how many people buy permits.
The agency argues the permits will offer a newfound predictability for drivers and can help level out the “peak of the peak” commute, when morning passengers encounter packed buses.
In addition to drivers being able to “spend an extra hour sleeping or an extra hour with your kids … having more people arrive steadily throughout peak period can spread the load on our buses,” said Daniel Rowe, supervisor of research and innovation at Metro.
Still, some will bristle at a new cost for the restricted spots.
At committee meetings this summer, County Council members debated whether the program would hurt people with low incomes or discourage transit use.
The current system penalizes people who can’t arrive at the lots “at increasingly earlier hours in the morning” because of child care or other commitments, said Councilmember Claudia Balducci, a supporter of the program.
Councilmember Kathy Lambert, who voted against the program, said, “I get being a single mom and having to drop kids off at school … but I don’t know at that point in my life where I would have come up with $90 to $120 to pay for my park-and-ride slot.”
A majority of the council approved the new permits in committee, making Wednesday’s passage likely.
The concept won’t be new for some transit riders. Sound Transit began a similar permitting system more than five years ago. The agency now sells permits for parking spaces at six stations, most of them for its Sounder commuter train service, and will soon expand to more.
At those six lots, Sound Transit sets aside fewer than half of the spaces for permit holders, who pay between $60 and $120 a month. At the Auburn Sounder station, for example, Sound Transit could restrict up to 317 spots for permits, but currently has 201 spots set aside for permit holders. The agency has issued 198 permits for single-occupancy vehicle drivers, five ORCA LIFT permits and 55 carpool permits at that station.
In 2017, Metro and Diamond Parking started offering paid permits at privately owned lots, and the agency already currently offers some carpool permits.
Drivers who get permits for Metro’s new program will have to submit their ORCA card number or otherwise show they took transit at least 12 days in a month for their permit to be renewed for the next month.
A third-party company, Republic Parking Northwest, will help run the program for Metro. Violators will be fined $20 for each of their first three offenses and their vehicles could be towed on the fourth violation.
Money left over after covering the costs of running the program could be used for such purposes as studying real-time parking information, like apps or signs, to let drivers know about available spots.
If the plan is approved Wednesday, permits will go on sale this fall, though Metro did not provide an exact date. The first month of the program will likely be a grace period focused on education before drivers start getting citations.