Choosing the Right Parking Option

Houston, Texas

Liliana Rambo

Chair of the International Parking Institute

This question brings to mind something Pat McCarthy, board chair of Sound Transit in Washington said at a traffic conference I attended. She said, “We need to make the experience as good as possible because there’s nothing more frustrating than going to take the train or take the bus or get onto Link light rail and not find a parking spot.”

With more people using public transportation, park-and-ride facilities are filling to near capacity, which may cause some frustrated commuters to give up and drive all the way to work. For transit advocates, full parking facilities are a beautiful sight — proof of what they hope will be a long-term shift away from reliance on single-rider vehicles from home to workplace. For commuters, however, the crowded lots may be plain frustrating.

Near-capacity facilities are a mixed blessing in the eyes of transit agencies and administrators who welcome additional customers, but must also plan for the long-term parking of so many vehicles. There can be no doubt that while some may view paying for parking on top of a transit fee as a negative, the lack of reliably open parking spaces at stations has a much stronger negative long-term effect on ridership.

Transit agencies must consider proper design of parking facilities and the proper use of parking access and revenue control facilities to meet increasing parking demands at stations.

  • Parking design may include multimodal elements, such as bus queuing and turn-around areas; covered waiting areas for pedestrians; spaces dedicated for electric vehicles; car-sharing or carpool; and/or services for bicycle commuters, such as bike racks, a bike-share program, lockers, showers, etc. Houston Metro representative Margaret O’Brien-Molina recently told me that 12 percent of metro riders wanted a covered facility for weather protection and 5 percent requested increased security.
  • Many transit garage users will be all-day park-and-ride commuters, so the facility design should reflect this level of use.
  • Appropriate revenue and access control equipment provides customers ease of use, payment and access to the facilities. They also provide the transit agency useful and important statistical and analytical information for revenue projection and operational needs.
  • An important and growing trend is the use of websites and social media to provide commuters real-time information, such as parking facility occupancy, and bus or train schedules. Other important technological features that can be explored in order to improve the customers’ experience include space guidance systems, integrated payment options and reserved parking.

Bottom line: parking matters. Tapping the expertise of experienced parking professionals at the earliest stages of planning any project can make all the difference.


Phoenix, Ariz

Dennis Burns

Regional Vice President and Senior Practice Builder

Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc.

Managing parking is a tricky endeavor for transit agencies. Most parking management strategies involve some sort of control and/or payment option. Paid parking can be a good incentive to push consumers to consider alternative transportation, but when the paid parking is needed to better manage transit agency parking resources, the issue becomes more problematic. Some may view having to pay a parking fee on top of a transit fee as a negative, but the lack of being able to reliably find a parking space in order to access transit has a much stronger negative impact to ridership in the long run.

When transit agencies are faced with having to more effectively manage parking resources there are several important elements to be considered. Proper design of parking facilities and the use of new technologies are as important to transit-related parking facilities as to any other environment. A holistic and innovative approach to parking facility design and an understanding of new technology options is essential to achieving desired parking outcomes for a transit agency.

I was recently engaged to design a parking management and technology program for a major U.S. transit system. A quick review of the elements applied to a series of park-and-ride lots along a commuter rail line illustrates the range of tools transportation agencies should consider:

  • Wireless sensors in all parking spaces to provide hyper-accurate parking availability data. This data would be used to feed a combination of electronic variable message signs, mobile apps and websites.
  • Multiple pay-by space payment devices that will be located on the train station platforms.
  • A pay-by-cell option that could be used on the train or in the event there was a line to pay or a pay station was malfunctioning when a train arrived. This option could also be used for parkers to remotely extend their paid times when necessary.
  • An RFID tag option to be read by handheld enforcement devices used by parking management staff. This compliments a monthly payment option.
  • A parking reservation system for locations with enough space. A slightly higher price was charged for this option, which provided guaranteed spaces.

This combination of technologies eliminated the need for traditional parking gates and ticket machines, minimizing staffing and equipment maintenance requirements and reducing operating costs for the agency.

These types of technology help transit agencies more effectively manage limited parking resources, provide reliable parking availability information, improve parking management data and provide enhanced customer service features commuters value.


Washington, D.C.

Soumya S. Dey, P.E.,

PMP Director of Research and Technology

Transfer/Deputy Associate Director

District Department of Transportation

All transit trips start with a trip to the bus, rail or train station. This trip is sometimes a walk, but in most cases, is made by other modes of transport — car, bike, scooter, motorcycle, shared car, etc. The interface between transit and parking provides an opportunity for both industries to apply state-of-the-practice parking options and services to enhance overall customer experience.

Three primary factors drive customers’ modal choice: travel time, cost and convenience. Travel time has two major components: that in a vehicle and that outside a vehicle. Research has shown a customer’s propensity to use transit decreases disproportionately as out-of-vehicle travel time increases. Out-of-vehicle travel time is primarily spent waiting and transferring. New technologies will enable customers to minimize transfer time.

Some of the elements of the parking interface should be:

  • Consider parking for all modes to provide customers with options. With the big push toward sustainability, transit agencies should look at opportunities to enhance travel choices between other locations and transit stations. Though auto parking will be the focus, state-of-the-art facilities should consider bike, scooter, motorcycle and car-share parking as well.
  • Ensure parking facilities stay abreast of automotive trends. Parking facilities should be able to adapt to include amenities such as car charging to its parking spots.
  • Remember information is king. In this information age, offering customers accurate and timely information is key. Information can be static or dynamic/real-time. Static information: transit agencies should have basic information about parking availability, rates, timing, payment options, etc., available through traditional channels, such as websites. This would enable transit users to make informed decisions about options to get to the transit stop.
  • Real-time information: This uses occupancy detection technology such as sensors or cameras and sends information out to customers in real-time using a smartphone application. This enables customers to make an informed decision about specific stations, mode of travel, etc.
  • Automated space guidance system: For larger facilities, automated space guidance systems directing customers to open spaces reduces customer frustration from circling different levels of a parking garage to find an open spot.
  • Offer multiple payment options integrated fare media: Integrating the transit fare media with parking payment options enhances the customer experience.
  • Virtual payment options: Providing payment options such as capability of using credit/debit cards and pay-by-cell at transit parking lots enhances the customer experience.
  • Boost safety: Transit agencies need to make sure parking facilities are safe for users and adhere to the latest standards on issues such as lighting.