Busy bus stops and rail stations have long been magnets for business, attracting eateries, stores and services to places where critical masses of transit riders congregate. Now a few savvy merchants are setting up shop in 21st century transit facilities – suburban park-and-ride lots.
CobornsDelivers, the New Hope-based mobile grocer, began filling online orders at the Northstar commuter rail park-and-ride in Coon Rapids this week. The firm earlier started bringing its colorful delivery trucks to the Southwest Transit park-and-ride in Eden Prairie, and it’s looking for more locations to continue testing the concept.
Other businesses also are gathering in and around park-and-ride lots, a trend that could turn suburban retailing on its head. For at least half a century, the dominant suburban business model has relied on customers driving somewhere to do their shopping or restaurant dining. CobornsDelivers’ basic business follows that scheme in mirror-image, driving to each customer’s home to drop off victuals.
Neither of these strategies is particularly efficient, either economically or in terms of energy use. By those measures, the park-and-ride ploy looks like a big improvement. Relieved of multiple trips to distribute groceries, CobornsDelivers is waiving its usual $5 delivery fee for orders of $25 or more at the park-and-rides.
That’s economic efficiency anyone can understand.
Besides being good for business and the consumer, park-and-ride marketing even gives a boost to transit sustainability. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to make riding transit more compelling,” Sue Westerman of CobornsDelivers told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Transit operators realize this. Both Southwest Transit and Metro Transit allow CobornsDelivers to do business at their park-and-rides free of charge, at least during the trial period.
“It’s a nice convenience to our customers at no cost to us,” said Len Simich of Southwest Transit, the public agency that built the five-level, 1,000-space Eden Prairie park-and-ride ramp to serve six bus routes. Southwest also developed the surrounding 22-acre site, which now bustles with half a dozen restaurants and 250 condominium units.
All that “makes it more attractive to take a bus out of here,” Simich said. As for the CoburnsDelivers service that began at the Eden Prairie terminal in August, he said “the customers that use it love it.”
CobornsDelivers says its park-and-ride sales have shown “steady growth” although not quite the level it would like to continue and expand the service. Still, it will keep test-marketing for several more months at least. Perhaps park-and-rides aren’t the best places to sell groceries, but time will tell.
Meanwhile, however, other businesses such as cafes and dry cleaners look like a natural fit for park-and-ride retail. Metro Transit last year leased space in its 1,550-space 28th Avenue S. park-and-ride ramp on the Hiawatha light rail line to a Subway sandwich shop, which continues in operation today. It welcomed CobornsDelivers to the 466-space Coon Rapids facility this week.
“It’s a toe in the water for us,” said Metro Transit spokesman Bob Gibbons. “We want to make transit service as convenient as possible” to balance whatever hassle riders experience taking the bus or train instead of the family car.
Public transit has made great strides in recent years to reclaim market share lost to the private automobile over many decades. Leveraging more of the commercial synergies inherent in transit’s concentrations of passengers can only build on that welcome trend.