Transit Oriented Developments v. Park and Rides, Which is Appropriate Where?

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MTI assesses two kinds of land uses supporting greater transit ridership
February 16, 2021
San José, CA

Walking or driving to transit is often a question of accessibility, distance, and convenience. To increase transit ridership and reduce reliance on cars, many state and local governments in the 1990s began promoting the   construction of more housing near transit, creating transit-oriented developments, or TODs. However, most people in the U.S. do not live close enough to transit to walk, so there exists another, older strategy of creating parking lots and garages near transit centers, called park-and-ride lots, or PnR. These competing strategies often clash over land use near transit stations and create friction over which one should be favored by state and local policies. Both have potential to increase transit ridership and reduce the carbon impact of car-produced emissions on the global climate. The latest Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) research, TOD and Park-and-Ride: Which is Appropriate Where?, analyzes data from three major US transit agencies to give insight into where and how these strategies can support greater transit ridership even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Using data from Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) serving San Jose and a service territory of 1,954,000, King County Metro (KC Metro) serving Seattle and a service territory of 2,150,000, and Los Angeles County Metro (LA Metro) with a service territory of 8,341,000, the research team performed quantitative analysis to compare the two strategies.
Significant findings include:

  • Large PnR structures within a quarter mile of a stop significantly increase ridership, from a 101% increase for LA Metro to a 419% increase for KC Metro.

  • Expanding PnR facilities also increases ridership. Adding 100 new parking spaces to existing PnR facilities increases ridership from a 9% increase for LA Metro to a 44% increase for KC Metro. 

  • Adding new housing provides a lower boost in ridership. Adding 100 new housing units leads to a 5% to 11% increase in ridership. 

Overall, the data shows that parking is surprisingly important, approximately two to four times more. Furthermore, PnR space is usually cheaper and faster to add than a TOD housing unit. Yet, current public policy in all three regions emphasizes TOD over PnR, especially in areas where PnR was not well used prior to the 2020 pandemic. Supporting TOD helps meet climate goals through a reduction in driving and by creating vibrant walkable communities, but PnR structures, carefully configured to avoid negative pedestrian impacts, cannot be overlooked. High volume points of boarding at PnRs are also efficient locations for coach capacity controls, mask compliance, and other public health measures.
“When asking how much to emphasize parking or housing near transit stations to increase ridership, it’s clear that less space and lower infrastructure costs are associated with creating a parking space than a housing unit,” explain the authors, while also noting “the funding sources for each are usually different.”
This research can inform public policy about the benefits of these two competing strategies. While both strategies can positively affect climate goals, based on econometric analysis, park-and-ride is a more efficient and effective way to grow ridership than transit-oriented development, especially outside of central city neighborhoods.
MTI will feature this research as part of its MTI Research Snaps webinar series on Thursday, March 4, 2020 at 10a.m. (PT) Register for this webinar at
At the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) at San Jose State University (SJSU) our mission is to increase mobility for all by improving the safety, efficiency, accessibility, and convenience of our nation’s transportation system. Through research, education, workforce development and technology transfer, we help create a connected world. MTI was founded in 1991 and is funded through the US Departments of Transportation and Homeland Security, the California Department of Transportation, and public and private grants. MTI is affiliated with SJSU’s Lucas College and Graduate School of Business.

John S. Niles, M.S.
, is an MTI Research Associate and Founder and President of Global Telematics, a policy research consultancy based in Seattle that focuses on designing policies and actions for transportation improvement. At MTI, he has led team studies on transit oriented development, urban freight mobility planning, bus rapid transit, and park-and-ride productivity analysis. He is co-author of the textbook The End of Driving: Transportation Systems and Public Policy Planning for Autonomous Vehicles (Elsevier, 2018), as well as many technical reports and articles. 

J. M. Pogodzinski, PhD, is an MTI Research Associate and Professor of Economics at San José State University. His transportation research has included work on the employment impacts of high-speed rail construction, the impact on ridership of park-and-ride facilities, and the economics of bike sharing. He also does research on state rainy-day funds and the impact of municipalities on school performance. 


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