Gas prices, traffic, mean more bus riders, MI park & rides full

Reporter Staff

Reporter Staff

In recent months, ongoing congestion coupled with high gas prices have increased usage of Metro on Mercer Island and throughout the region.

According to new transit ridership figures and other tracking data, the demand for transit services and customer information is up across the board and is evident in all Metro transportation services.

“While we have known for many months that job growth has been driving up demand for Metro Transit services, new preliminary data show weekday ridership jumped about 7 percent, or an estimated 20,000 daily trips, in September compared to the same period a year ago,” said Kevin Desmond, Metro Transit general manager.

Overall Metro ridership for the third quarter of 2005 was up about 3.5 percent compared to a year ago. While this data is still considered preliminary, it indicates higher gas prices have also been fueling demand.

Mercer Island is home to the fourth most used park-and-ride on the Eastside, said Linda Thielke, a Metro spokesperson. The lot at 7800 North Mercer Way was consistently filled over its capacity this fall, she said, with more cars then the 257 spaces available. This year it averaged 259 cars a day because people parked illegally, she said.

“It’s always been heavily used,” Thielke said.

In addition to more passengers on its buses, Metro is also seeing increases in the following areas:

Vanpools/Carpools. October was a banner month for Metro’s vanpool program. In four weeks, 51 new vanpools were formed — Metro Rideshare’s biggest month ever for vanpool creation. It will also mean a new high for the number of vanpools on the road in King County, with approximately 720 individual vanpools. The previous milestone was 712 vanpools in January 2000. has experienced an unprecedented 60 percent one-month increase in customers seeking ridematch services compared to a year ago — up from 7,500 to 12,600 registered customers compared to the same time last year.

Park-and-ride use. Metro estimates an additional 1,175 vehicles per day used its park-and-ride lots during the third quarter of this year compared to the third quarter of 2004. This is the highest third-quarter increase in use in the past 15 years, with some park-and-rides in the county’s busiest travel corridors experiencing double-digit percentage increases.

In the last year, usage has doubled at Mercer Island’s park-and-ride at the Presbyterian Church, at 84th Avenue S.E. and S.E. 39 Street. It has 30 spaces available, and on average, it was two-thirds full this fall. A park-and-ride at the United Methodist Church, on S.E. 24th Street which has 18 spaces, was also two-thirds full on average. Finally, commuters use about 35 percent of the 21 spaces at the South End QFC park-and-ride.

More people are using park-and-rides in response to major effort by Metro to increase the numbers of spaces countywide. In the past five years, Metro has increased park-and-ride capacity by 17 percent at both its permanent and leased lots with more than 3,000 new spaces. Metro now has more than 20,000 spaces available at 123 permanent and leased lots — and the number will increase next February when the 1,000-space Issaquah Highlands Park-and-Ride garage opens north of Interstate 90.

Trip Planner. Metro also reports a significant spike in the number of people looking for information about transit services and programs. The transit agency’s on-line Trip Planner has been a popular resource. Agency data shows that third-quarter visits to Metro Online numbered more than 1.5 million, with Metro’s Trip Planner providing 2 million itineraries to customers. Both figures reflect a continuing increase in usage. With more than 1,300 buses traveling on 211 routes during peak commute times, Trip Planner helps thousands of customers find bus schedules, bus stops, route maps, door-to-door directions and virtually everything they need to know about how to ride Metro.

Also during the past six-weeks, a Metro commute-planning program aimed at providing downtown Seattle employees with transit service information related to the tunnel closure has been hugely successful, the agency said. More than 1,000 new and existing passengers taking advantage of the service.

The “Plan Your Commute” sessions have been so popular that Metro has decided to continue them as weekly sessions offering personalized timetables and other commute planning tools through 2006. These ongoing sessions will be held every Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Transportation Connection Office, Rainier Square, 4th Avenue and University Street, Seattle.

Flexcar. Metro’s partnership with Flexcar also continues to expand. There are now more than 15,000 approved members in the Seattle area signed up to use Flexcar, according to Metro data. There are more than 145 vehicles in the Flexcar fleet, with more being added all the time.

In a recent news release, Desmond said when taken together, these individual indicators show more and more people are actively seeking transit alternatives and that Metro and its partners would like to see those trends grow even further.