TransLink may make commuters pay to use many of its free park-and-rides and may raise rates at other paid parking lots at rapid transit stations in response to overcrowding.
The strategy is to spur more drivers who can catch a bus from close to their home to do so rather than driving to a park-and-ride, where they board SkyTrain, an express bus or the West Coast Express.
Detractors worry the plan will backfire and push too many of those motorists to ditch transit and drive all the way to work instead.
TransLink corporate communications manager Jason Martin gave no details on which lots might see fees imposed or raised, adding a study is still underway and TransLink’s board of directors will vote on any final plan.
“Pricing is certainly one way to help manage demand,” he said. “We want to encourage people on the frequent transit network or areas that are well-served to use transit to get to SkyTrain.”
Park-and-rides offer convenience for motorists who don’t want to wait for a bus near their home to get to a transit hub before transferring to an express bus or rapid transit, Martin said, but added that convenience may come at a price.
“A nominal fee at park-and-ride still represents savings for somebody who might otherwise still be driving downtown to pay for a parking spot.”
The parking congestion problem partly reflects rising transit ridership – more commuters than TransLink expected are using the South Surrey park-and-ride to catch a bus to the Canada Line at Bridgeport.
The South Surrey lot is one of 10 free ones across the region and it routinely overflows despite being recently expanded to 481 stalls. TransLink has said it will begin towing cars illegally parked there June 25.
“It’s pretty chaotic,” said Fraser Institute economist Joel Wood, who commutes using the lot and said TransLink is right to reassess the region’s park-and-ride fees to reduce congestion.
“The obvious solution to replacing the kind of first-come, first-served approach we have now to allocating stalls is to charge for them,” Wood said.
“If you put a price in, you’ll want to set the price so the parking lot fills up but there’s no longer cars overflowing.”
Other free park-and-rides include lots in Ladner, Tsawwassen, Walnut Grove in Langley, Sexsmith in Richmond; Phibbs exchange, Park Royal mall, Westmount and Gleneagles on the North Shore.
Some pay lots already charge hefty fees. An Impark-run lot at King George station in Surrey costs $6 to park for the day, prompting many motorists heading there to park for free a couple blocks away along Fraser Highway instead.
Others are much cheaper – the public parkade at Bridgeport Station, operated by the casino there in partnership with TransLink, charges Canada Line users $2.50 a day, while the Scott Road SkyTrain station park-and-ride charges $3.
Wood said TransLink needs to guard against unintended impacts, like commuters parking on nearby residential streets to save money.
The move will also bring inequities, especially where some motorists heading to a transit hub have less ability to take transit without driving than others.
Many commuters criticized the planned higher fees online, saying they will defeat the purpose of park-and-rides and discourage transit use.
Twitter user @BuckyHermit called TransLink planners “clueless” for thinking fees will encourage people to take a bus to stations. “Um. If they had a choice, they would!”
TransLink says the capital cost of building park-and-rides ranges from $3,000 to $16,000 per space, while the operating costs are $200 to $800 per year.