In a way, LSW Architects has become a victim of its own success.
While the company has enjoyed steady growth over the last several years — hiring a fleet of new employees from all over the country — its parking lot hasn’t gotten any bigger, and the company’s challenge of providing convenient parking at its downtown office has grown a little more pronounced with every new hire.
“We are challenged to find convenient parking for our growing staff, that is one of the challenges we are observing in our operations,” said the firm’s Principal Casey Wyckoff. “Additionally … people coming from elsewhere in the country have an anticipation of more and more convenient transportation options than Vancouver currently has.”
The company needed a solution, so it developed one in-house and thinks it’s something that could benefit people and especially employers throughout downtown.
Wyckoff and a few other employees created Ryd — an acronym for Rethink Your Drive — a shuttle service designed to give people a quick ride to their downtown destination when they park a little ways away.
Anyone needing a lift will call or send a text message to Ryd, which will pick them up and drop them off at their final destination during weekday business hours. During peak commuter hours, employees of the companies that partner with Ryd will receive priority.
“Generally, there’s a fair bit of free surface parking on the perimeters of downtown,” Wyckoff said. “Also, (there are) a number of parking lots that are under-utilized. We made contact with those owners, and for a much-reduced cost, people would be able to park in those lots.”
LSW is certainly not alone in its struggle to find decent parking for its employees.
“Our greatest challenge right now is employee parking,” said Steve Kaspan, parking manager for the city of Vancouver. “You can divide up the parkers into employees, residents or customers. (Parking) is a challenge for everybody, but the greatest demand is for employee parking.”
For those visiting downtown, parking there isn’t exactly scarce, but it’s definitely not as convenient as it once was. While people might expect to be able to park right outside their destination, they now may have to park a couple of blocks away. But for people who work downtown without the luxury of a big company lot, finding a place to leave a car all day without having to worry about getting a parking ticket can be a real challenge.
People who work downtown can purchase an on-street permit for $57 a month, but it doesn’t guarantee a space — and spaces closest to downtown employers are usually taken up first. The city is considering creating a parking permit and district on the west side of the Clark County Courthouse for downtown workers who make $15 an hour or less, but for some workers than would still mean a lengthy walk.
Ryd is currently beta-testing the concept right now with LSW employees. Their shuttle, a little green electric vehicle that looks like an extra-long golf cart called a Gem, is practically impossible to miss.
Being environmentally conscious and sticking out were part of the plan, along with offering the community an enjoyable experience, said Ryd CFO Shara Wokal.
“We make it fun … we wanted to have something that stood out,” she said. “Our driver is also fun. That’s part of ensuring it’s a good experience.”
Wyckoff, who also serves as Ryd’s CEO, said the company is working on becoming a nonprofit. Currently the company has just one vehicle, but it plans to grow its fleet and obtain support from sponsors.
Wokal said service will start ramping up in the next few weeks, with the service expected to go public in May.
How well it will work remains to be seen, but the company and city officials are optimistic.
Chad Eiken, Vancouver community and economic development director, said “it’s refreshing” to see the private sector find solutions rather than waiting on the city to do so.
“It’s really one shuttle at this point, but it has the potential to fill a void that the city is not able to do, which is connect under-utilized parking outside the downtown — and provide some revenue for those property owners — with a convenient shuttle that I understand is going to be free to anyone during the day,” he said.