More and more commuters are parking their cars and leaving the driving to Metro Transit and other suburban transit providers.
Last year, daily usage at the metro area's 106 Park and Ride facilities averaged 19,149 users per weekday, an increase of more than 6.5 percent from 2012 according to the annual Regional Park and Ride System Survey.
The increase parallels bus ridership which has grown over the past few years and saw Metro Transit, Minnesota Valley Transit Authority report record ridership in 2013 while SouthWest Transit saw a 3.5 percent bump for year.
The survey is used to help officials plan the transit system and where to increase capacity, adjust service levels and plan for capital improvements, said Maurice Roers, manager of facility planning for Metro Transit.
The survey found that nearly 83 percent of users resided in the metro seven-county area while 17 percent came from outside.
Park and Ride lots with the biggest gains in users included the I-35W and 95th Avenue lot in Blaine, Ramsey Station in Ramsey, I-35W and Kenrick Avenue in Lakeville, Station 73 in Plymouth, I-35W and County Road C and Grace Church, both in Roseville.
Overall, 2,216 spaces were added to the Park and Ride system with new or expanded facilities at Hwy. 36 and Rice Street (280), Rosemount Transit Station (102), Maplewood Mall Transit Center (580), Ramsey Station (210), Salem Covenant Church (20) and the East Creek Station in Chaska (625).
Seven small and under used Park and Ride lots were closed in 2013. They included Transfiguration Lutheran Church (35), St. Philip's Lutheran Church (20), Atonement Lutheran Church (25), Richfield Municipal Pool (25), Rosemount Community Center (75), Gustavus Adolphus Church (25) and Faith United Methodist Church (100).
Planners are gravitating toward having larger facilities with more than 100 spaces because "they allow for higher levels of services," Roers said.
With the additions and subtractions, the Park and Ride system grew to 31,088 available spaces and 61 percent were used each day.
A few lots, however, were over capacity. Those included the Hwy. 610 and Noble lot in Brooklyn Park, the Maple Grove Transit Station, Guardian Angels Church in Oakdale, Hwy. 61 at Lower Afton Road in St. Paul, Hwy. 61 and County Road C in Maplewood and south Bloomington at 99th and Aldrich Avenues.
Later this year, Metro Transit will close smaller lots on the I-35E corridor in favor of two new large Park-and-Ride facilities at County Road 14 and County Road E. A new ramp is currently under construction at the Hwy. 610 and Noble location and there's talk about adding a new lot along I-94 off Manning Avenue in Woodbury.
According to the Met Council's 2030 Park and Ride Plan, demand for park and ride service will grow to more than 40,000 users by 2030.
Metro Transit's General Manager Brian Lamb said there are no plans to charge people for using the lots. Adding a gate or a way to collect the fee would add too much overhead. He also noted that most park and rides are geared for express service, which already carry a higher fare than local routes.
"We have opted to have these types of services incorporated in the overall fare," he said. "It is most effective and efficiently managed through the fare than having a separate charge."