Magazine

BART Center of Parking Study

John Van Horn


California Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways (PATH), in coordination with the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) District and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), has spearheaded a three-year study whose goal is to put more vehicles in BART's park-and-ride facilities and more riders on its commuter trains.
The study resulted in two reports: "Transit-Based Smart Parking In The San Francisco Bay Area: An Assessment Of User Demand And Behavioral Effects" and "Applying Integrated ITS Technologies To Parking Management Systems: A Transit-Based Case Study In The San Francisco Bay Area."
Two important conclusions from this study were that the lack of parking spaces at transit stations may be a significant constraint to transit use and that pre-trip and, perhaps, en-route information on parking availability at transit stations may increase transit use. A survey of commuters at the Rockridge BART station -- implemented to gain insight into parking information needs, the travel effects of a new monthly paid parking program, and the potential travel effects of a smart parking service -- led to the following:
First, it was found that a potential market exists for a daily paid parking information service among current and new riders with relatively high incomes, high auto availability, and variable work locations and schedules.
Second, the current monthly reserved paid parking service may have increased the frequency of BART use among subscribers, but it has not reduced net auto travel because of diversions to BART from carpool, bus and bike modes for their main commute and increased drive-alone access to the BART station.
Observational analyses at the station indicated that existing parking supply exceeded demand and thus "smart parking" technologies could be applied to optimize capacity and potentially increase ridership.
Focus groups and surveys were conducted to gauge interest in smart parking services. Key results included: significant commuter frustration with parking shortages and interest in smart parking services; the importance of accurate parking counts and parking enforcement to ensure system reliability; and the potential for greater transit use among users of smart parking services.
The field test technology includes traffic sensors that count vehicles in and out of the parking lot; a central computer that calculates space availability; an advanced and en-route reservation system accessed via cell phone, telephone, PDA and Internet; and real-time parking information displayed on changeable message signs located on a highway next to the station.
The study group then began a test using high-tech counters, signage and Internet-based reservation systems. Taking 50 spaces carved out of the RockRidge BART station's parking facility, it set up an operation to test the thesis set forth in the studies noted above.
An area was blocked off and channeling created to ensure that the counting was accurate. Counters were installed and tied to a message sign in the nearby freeway. Drivers were then notified in real-time as to the number of spaces available in the test area.
In addition, an Internet-based reservation system was established and promoted to parkers currently using the facility. They could, on line, reserve a space up to a week in advance at no cost.
"Our goal was to test the technology and ensure that it worked as we hoped it would before expanding the program to the entire system," said Kevin Hagerity, Director of Parking Operations at BART. "We're only about two months into the program and will review it after three and six months." The study is to last a year.
"Although we have seen some change in driving habits after the signs went into operation, we hope to get more data as to when drivers make the decision to use the parking facility and take the train," Hagerity said. "My guess is that many drivers see the sign and say, 'Parking is available,' and then make the decision the next day to use the train.
"We are very pleased with the coordination and help we have received from Caltrans in this pilot program," he added. "They not only funded the project, but also have given technical and operation support and assistance.
"Once we have the program established, I can see us working with Caltrans to combine messages in real-time. Something like: 'Traffic Congested Ahead, 30-Minute Delay, Consider BART, 30 Parking Spaces Available.' "
The study found that a number of drivers were frustrated by going to the parking facility and driving around and finding no space. They then had to get back on the freeway, and the detour added as much as 20 to 30 minutes to their commute. Others actually went from station to station looking for parking.
The Smart Park program uses an Internet-based interface to enable parkers to reserve spaces up to two weeks in advance in the "smart park" area. There is no charge for this; however, the parkers are expected to fill out a survey form. A limited number of spaces in the smart park area are reserved for drivers who saw the signs on the freeway and came in based on parking availability.
According to Hagerity, the goal is to give BART riders more options in their parking. Currently, BART allows customers to purchase monthly reserved parking; however, daily reserved parking and the freeway notification are new.
"We hope also to give potential riders the option to begin using rapid transit during off-hours," he said. "It would be beneficial if we could get riders to use BART for sporting events, concerts or 'evening-outs' in the city."
The project was led by PATH, which was established in 1986. It is administered by the Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS) at UC Berkeley, in collaboration with Caltrans. PATH is a multi-disciplinary program with staff, faculty and students from universities statewide, and cooperative projects with private industry, state and local agencies, and nonprofit institutions.
PATH's mission is to develop solutions to the problems of California's surface transportation systems through cutting-edge research. It develops these solutions by harnessing the knowledge of transportation researchers, working in conjunction with experts in the fields of information technology, electrical and mechanical engineering, economics, transportation policy and behavioral studies.
Heading the project for PATH are Caroline Rodier, PhD, and Susan Shaheen, PhD. Working with PATH, BART and Caltrans were Parking Carma, a software division of Acme Innovations, and Quixote Corp. The former company supplied the software and computer hardware for the program, and the latter provided the barriers, counters and highway signage.

Complete texts of the two PATH reports can be found at www.path.berkeley.edu.

Article Abstract from February, 2005




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