Commuters won’t drive far to access park-and-ride

By Chris McCahill

People using park-and-ride (PNR) stations don’t seem to mind a longer overall commute, according to new research, as long as the station is close to home. In other words, it’s probably better to think of park-and-ride lots more like local feeders than as regional access points.

For this study, University of Minnesota researchers surveyed 1,690 transit riders who used park-and-ride stations in the Twin Cities. Only 15 percent of respondents chose the route that would minimize their total travel time, while half chose the route that minimized their driving time to the nearest station. On average, the commuters spent only 22 percent of their time driving. There were no significant differences based on age, income, or gender.

As the authors point out, this information is useful for modeling mode choice and route decisions, but the lessons are also helpful for effective transit planning. “For planners,” they explain, “this finding suggests that PNR facilities may be most useful to the most commuters if located in relatively dense suburban areas,” as opposed to serving those who drive longer distances from throughout the region. To attract the latter, transit service may need to branch further into outlying areas.

That said, planners can turn to other past research for help assessing the tradeoffs between parking and transit-oriented development­—particularly in the dense types of places where park-and-ride lots are apparently most effective. While parking typically generates more near-term ridership, the annual cost including operations can run from around $500 per space for a surface lot to more than $2,000 for underground parking, while also tying up developable land.

Chris McCahill is the Deputy Director at SSTI.