Mercer Island will spend up to $226,900 in taxpayer funds to provide discounted Uber and Lyft rides from its wooded neighborhoods to the island’s often-packed transit center.
Some of the Sound Transit taxes paid by Eastside residents will subsidize Lyft and Uber rides to the Mercer Island transit center.
The six-month test project is meant to take pressure off the island’s 447-stall park-and-ride garage, which often fills before 7 a.m. as people arrive to meet I-90 express buses.
The program is funded by up to $226,900 that’s earmarked for “first-last mile solutions” to move people between transit and their final destinations. At least 26 other park-and-ride facilities in King County are chronically full, so these kinds of arrangements might spread.
The cost is a fraction of the $10.1 million settlement Mercer Island gained in a lawsuit last year against the regional transit agency, which took over the I-90 floating bridge express lanes for light-rail construction.
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The city argued the state and Sound Transit were removing general-traffic access to I-90 from Island Crest Way, the city’s largest arterial street, without adequate alternatives.
The express lanes themselves, which were built in 1989, were designated in a 1976 federal-funding plan to eventually be converted into a high-capacity transit corridor.
Mercer Island will be part of the new train route, to open in 2023, from the International District/Chinatown Station to the Redmond Technology Station at Overlake.
Discounted rides begin April 23. Islanders can catch a car to or from their transit hub for $2 the first three months. During months four to six, the rate is $2 per rider for a group ride, $5 per solo ride.
The price structure is designed to make people comfortable with the service so they eventually seek group rides, to reduce the Uber and Lyft traffic per customer, city leaders say.
Ride-hailing subsidies are one of the Seattle area’s first examples of “public-private partnerships” that leaders across the political spectrum hope will improve mobility.
This spring, Pierce Transit will inaugurate free Lyft rides from limited zones near South Hill Mall, Puyallup, Pierce College, Parkland, Tacoma Dome Station and 72nd Street transit centers using a $205,000 federal grant, said spokeswoman Rebecca Japhet.
At both Pierce Transit and Mercer Island, discount codes will be created for use within the ride-service apps.
Taxpayers may benefit, if transit agencies avoid parking-structure expansions that can cost around $100,000 a space.
“We were just looking for creative ways to help residents take advantage of the park-and-ride, to choose anything other than to drive yourself,” Kelsay said. “In the six-month pilot, we expect it to be thousands of rides.”
Lyft and Uber are contributing $10,000 each.
Mercer Island City Council members didn’t fret about subsidizing ride-hailing markets, said Ross Freeman, city sustainability manager. They’re more concerned about whether cars will crowd the island’s north end near the transit station, he said.
“Let’s make sure we’re not just creating a different kind of traffic,” Freeman said.
On Mercer Island, cars are better able than buses to reach houses along steep side roads. The winding arterials lack safe places for buses to pull over.
“The topography is challenging,” Kelsay said.
Prices vary, but Lyft’s online estimator showed $17 to go the entire length of Mercer Island, and Uber’s showed $7 to $9 from Mercer Island High School to the transit station, as of late Wednesday morning.
With the remainder of its $10.1 million settlement, the city would allocate $5.1 million to improve car, bike and pedestrian access; $4.6 million to add 100 park-and-ride stalls, and $50,000 for trails and for Aubrey Davis Park near the transit station.
Similar first-last mile subsidies are being tried in New Jersey, Massachusetts and Florida, according to a Harvard University city-studies program.
Sound Transit’s new Angle Lake Station, two future Overlake-area stations, and the stops in its future Northgate-Lynnwood line are designed with turnaround loops where friends or for-hire drivers can drop off transit customers.
Meanwhile, King County Metro just launched its new Route 635 circulating between Des Moines and Angle Lake Station, passing a new office park, at an operating cost of $314,000 per year.
Metro says it’s looking for public-private partnerships, and this year allocated four parking stalls at Northgate Transit Center for Car2Go and ReachNow rental cars.