On Monday, Dec. 2, Sound Transit (ST) launched the online sale of permits for reserved parking spaces in the main Mercer Island Park-and-Ride and at the Issaquah Transit Center.
Both facilities reach capacity well before 8 a.m. on weekdays.
Transit riders can now purchase a monthly single-occupant vehicle (SOV) parking permit or sign up for a free carpool parking permit. Permit holders will have access to reserved parking at both locations until 9 a.m. on weekdays starting Jan. 2.
For the Mercer Island Park-and-Ride, the monthly fee for SOV permits is $120. Riders who are eligible for ORCA Lift reduced fares will get a discounted monthly rate of $40.
For the Issaquah Transit Center, the monthly fee for SOV permits is $60, with a discounted $20 rate for eligible ORCA Lift reduced fares riders.
A ST press release noted that the prices were based on market rates in each surrounding area.
To qualify for a reserved parking permit, applicants must reside in the ST district and use an ORCA or ORCA Lift card at least 12 days a month to board a ST bus or King County Metro from the Metro permitted transit center.
The carpool parking permits are free to any groups of two or more transit users who carpool to one of the facilities to ride transit at least 12 days a month.
The parking lots will have areas reserved for permit holders arriving to use transit during the weekday morning peak commute period. The size of the areas will depend on the number of permits sold.
ST will only sell permits for up to half of each lot. Only 50 percent of the parking spaces will be available for reserve. They will only block out the number of stalls for permits sold, however, and will not hold unsold spots. If less than 50 percent are sold, the remaining spots of that 50 percent will remain open to all users.
Unused permit spaces will be available to any transit user after 9 a.m. on weekdays as well as all day on weekends and federal holidays.
The ST board in 2018 authorized permit parking options for their busiest park-and-ride lots that regularly fill to 90 percent of capacity or above, including the Mercer Island and Issaquah facilities.
Since it is well known that the 447 parking stalls in the Mercer Island Park-and-Ride lot typically fill up by 7 a.m. every weekday, Mercer Island communications manager Ross Freeman said he thinks the permits will be popular as there is a high demand. He said these would be particularly helpful to anyone who cannot make it to the facility before 7 a.m., such as parents who have to see their kids off to school before making their commute to work.
Freeman said the city often hears folks wanting more parking stalls, more certainty and resident only parking. He said that a permit like this definitely offers a higher level of certainty, and he thinks many people will be compelled to buy them.
“It’s hard to predict,” he said. “But I assume they will be very popular.”
He said the Mercer Island Park-and-Ride was identified as one of the 14 busiest ST lots and is one of the last three where the new permit system will be implemented.
“It’s always full because of the booming metropolis we live in,” he said. He also said another contributing factor is that the South Bellevue Park-and-Ride is closed while the light rail is under construction there. When it’s completed, there will be 1,500 parking stalls there, he said. “When that reopens, that’s a potential game changer.”
Freeman said that since the ST Park-and-Rides are all regional facilities and regionally funded, none of them give special treatment to the community they are hosted in. Rather, they are equally available to all users. That means there won’t be any resident-only parking spaces at the Mercer Island Park-and-Ride.
He also explained that the request for more stalls at the Mercer Island facility would be difficult and costly to fulfill. The current structure of the park and ride is not built to support the addition of another story. It’s not engineered to be built taller. So the city continues to look at other parking options.
As far as resident-only parking, he said there is already one option that has been in place for about two years. The city sells resident-only parking permits online for street parking spaces in the town center. Those spaces are marked as by permit only from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and are just a few minutes-long walk from the Park-and-Ride.
He also said it’s a great deal — that permit only costs $10 for two years. Purchasers just need to provide proof of residency.
Freeman had posted information about the new ST Park-and-Ride permits going on sale on Nextdoor, on the city’s website, and in the city’s MI Weekly Nov. 27 newsletter to try to give residents a heads up about the new option.
“Trying to catch people before they go away for the holiday,” he said.
As of Nov. 26, Freeman said feedback he received so far about the new parking permits was mixed — there were some comments on his Nextdoor post, he had gotten a few emails. The city had heard some people are concerned while others are excited to have that option.
“We’re receiving a great amount of interest from all sides,” Freeman said.
The city council was expected to receive an update on the topic at the Dec. 3 city council meeting. Freeman said he is hoping they will receive the initial day-one sales data from ST by then.
Bellevue resident Yassin Sinyan was at the Mercer Island Park-and-Ride at 9:30 a.m. Dec. 2. She said she drives there and catches a bus to her job in Seattle. She was lucky that morning to get a parking spot as someone else was departing it, she said.
Normally, finding a spot is no easy feat. She said sometimes she’ll wait for 30 minutes to see if someone leaves. If she can’t get a spot, she’ll end up driving to work and paying for parking.
She had not yet heard about the new permit parking. She said she would prefer if all of the spots remained open to everyone, as opposed to half the spots being taken away from non-permit holders, because it’s already so difficult to find parking, especially with construction in Bellevue.
“I would prefer not to have it. I would prefer, for everyone’s sake, not to start that,” she said. “It would be great if everyone could find parking and not make it hard.”
While she said the option sounds like it could be convenient, and she may even consider it for herself if it makes sense for her, she said she is concerned about accessibility.
“Already it’s hard to find parking,” she said. “Of course, some people could pay for this, but not everyone can.”