Dakota County has some of the metro area's most heavily used park-and-ride lots, while Scott County has some of its emptiest, a survey finds.

But nowhere in the southern suburbs are there problems as severe as those in places such as Woodbury, where many lots are spilling over with "hide-and-ride" drivers leaving their cars on nearby streets because there isn't any room for them.

Those are among the findings of a new survey carried out for transit agencies across the metro area.

Transit officials in Dakota County say that, if anything, the results understate the severity of the problem they face.

Their counterparts in Scott, meanwhile, point to some of the region's fastest increases in bus usage. While there are hundreds of empty spaces today, they add, those spaces may well be needed in the near future as improvements in the speed of commuter express buses encourages a lot more folks to climb on board.

"A bus-only ramp from our transit station begins construction, I think, later this year," said Jane Kansier, Building and Transportation Services director in Prior Lake. "It probably won't be complete until 2010, but it will cut perhaps 10 minutes off the trip. And if we can get bus-only shoulders on [Hwy.] 169 and its bridge, that will cut still more time off," encouraging traffic-stalled motorists to take a serious look at the bus.

The Apple Valley Transit Station, which added spaces by buying and demolishing the old Watson's store, recorded the second-biggest increase in the metro area in park-and-ride users from 2007 to 2008, according to the study, conducted by Metro Transit on behalf of a number of agencies.

But the southern suburbs are the only part of the metro area that didn't have any individual park-and-ride sites listed as being wildly over capacity. Figures of well over 100 percent use were recorded for sites in communities including Roseville, Plymouth, Golden Valley, and, notably, Woodbury, which had three of four sites listed as above capacity, one of them at 140 percent.

That said, however, the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority (MVTA), which serves commuters in Savage and in most of northern Dakota County, had the region's second-most-heavily-used park-and-rides. Seventy-five percent of its spaces get used, tying it with Southwest Transit, which has far smaller numbers. Those two trail only Maple Grove (85 percent).

And Robin Selvig, spokeswoman for the MVTA, said that even 75 percent may well understate the situation. "My information is that people are parking on the 'end caps,'" meaning squeezing into spots that aren't really spaces, "in virtually every location," she said. "And in winter we lose spaces to snow piles."

The MVTA, she said, encourages folks to use a couple of spots with extra spaces: the Heart of the City park-and-ride in Burnsville, near the corner of Nicollet Avenue and Burnsville Parkway, and the one in Savage, at County Road 42 and Huntington Avenue.

Compared with others in the metro area, the new Blue Xpress service out of Prior Lake and Shakopee trailed far behind, with 39 percent of park-and-ride capacity used, the survey showed.

"But you have to remember, we've only been operating for about a year and half," Kansier said. And with growth continuing, and the survey conducted last fall, the numbers by now are a bit higher, she said.

"At Southbridge we are probably at about 45 percent now, 234 cars out of 515 spaces," with a similar percentage at another, smaller, facility.

Between August 2007, the service's first full month, and last December, she said, the number of riders rose from 9,190 to 11,754. Usage peaked in October at more than 13,000, then dropped back a bit, but picked up again in December, despite the falloff in gas prices.

"We are consistently goin' up."

David Peterson • 952-882-9023