Nearly 4 out of 10 downtown workers would definitely or probably use a park and ride, and 1 in 4 would ride the bus if service were more frequent and had longer hours, according to a downtown-area workforce transportation survey released Monday, July 16.
The survey comes on the heels of growing calls from downtown employers to solve downtown’s parking problem that they say could threaten the city’s central business district from attracting and retaining employers in the future.
The problem likely will get worse. Downtown has more than 700,000 square feet of office space available, not including the planned redevelopment of County Square, and the absorption of that office space would result in more than 5,000 additional office jobs downtown, said Kim Williams, existing industry manager for the Greenville Area Development Corporation.
Other sectors such as retail and hospitality are growing, too, she said.
“The county and the City Council have to step up,” said Jon-Michial Carter, CEO of ChartSpan and organizer of the newly formed Downtown Transportation Coalition, which represents companies that employ thousands of workers downtown. “Whether it’s a park and ride or overhaul of the bus transit system, they have to start collaborating and writing checks.”
Thirty-eight percent of downtown workers surveyed said they would definitely or probably use a park and ride if it were convenient and affordable. Fifty percent of employers said they definitely or probably would pay for passes for their employees.
Twenty-five percent of employees said they would definitely or probably ride the bus if service were more frequent and longer running. Forty-three percent of employers said they’d definitely or probably fund stipends for employees.
More than 1,200 employees and employers in the 29601 area code responded to the survey that was conducted by the Greenville Chamber of Commerce, the Greenville Area Development Corporation, the Appalachian Council of Governments, and SC Works. The respondents represented 11 business sectors.
Ninety-two percent of the employees who completed the survey drive to and from work alone. Seventy-four percent have commutes of 30 minutes or less. Of those who provided home addresses, one-third live within a half-mile of a current Greenlink bus stop. Nineteen percent are within a quarter-mile.
But 67 percent of the employees surveyed said they don’t take the bus to work because they prefer to drive. Forty-one percent said current bus routes are not convenient, and 30 percent said the frequency is not convenient. Twenty-two percent said bus hours of service are not adequate.
Sixty-four percent of employees park in an employer-paid lot. Another 20 percent pay to park in a garage or lot. Seven percent rely on on-street parking, while 4 percent use street and garage parking based on availability.
Employers’ top five concerns are parking availability, parking cost, traffic congestion, bus frequency, and hours of bus service. They said their workforces would most benefit from additional structured parking, followed by more trolley service, more frequent bus service, longer running bus service, additional surface parking, park and ride locations, and modified bus routes.
When asked how a park and ride might work, Greenlink Director of Transportation Gary Shepard said he envisioned a secure park-and-ride lot with shuttles running from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Shepard said Greenlink’s five-year transportation plan calls for increasing the frequency and number of routes. It would cost an additional $5 million in annual operating costs plus the cost of buying new buses.
Carter said the parking problem is not just affecting low-wage earners who can’t afford monthly parking fees.
“It’s not a socioeconomic issue. It’s a workforce issue,” he said. “I’ve got six-figure employees who struggle with where to park. … It’s imperative the city and county work on this.”