Day-use Reservations for Commercial Tour Buses and Automobiles
The need to manage the kinds and amounts of vehicle use and parking areas was established by the Record of Decision for the Restoration of the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias and the Merced Wild and Scenic River Comprehensive Management Plan (MRP). The Mariposa Grove restoration plan and the MRP included socioeconomic analyses that acknowledged the park's importance to the region, especially in tourism and service sectors of the economy. The proposed actions will not have a measurable effect on park visitation or the regional economy.
The parking layout and design for the Mariposa Grove includes four spaces for commercial tour buses at South Entrance. In the Yosemite Falls parking area, twenty-two spaces will be provided for oversized vehicles. An interim design for the Half Dome Village site provides for 90 new parking spaces, half of which were not available for public use in the past. Both parking areas were designed to reflect field observations and studies of visitor use and demand documented in 2009, 2010, and 2011.
To monitor numbers of automobiles and commercial tour buses, the NPS uses automatic traffic counters, field observation of parking areas, and vehicle data collected at park entrance stations. When completed in 2014, the MRP established a maximum capacity of 5,300 vehicles at one time (VAOT) in east Yosemite Valley. Since 2014, the number of vehicles (average daily trips; a 24-hour measure distinct from VAOT) recorded at count stations has increased during peak periods from 6,000 to 7,000 and 8,000 vehicles on some days; typically Saturdays and Sundays in spring and summer. Park visitation has increased from previous record highs of 4 million in 1996, 3.8 million in 2012, and 4.1 million in 2015, to over 5 million in 2016.
East Yosemite Valley contains less than 1,800 parking spaces for daytime visitors. The reservation system will apply to only five percent of the total number of spaces that will be available in 2017 and 2018. Reservations for parking spaces will be accepted through the same NPS contractor who processes reservations for campgrounds and Half Dome permits. The NPS will not collect a reservation fee; however, the contractor will collect a service or transaction fee.
By allocating a limited number of reserved parking spaces for a specific date, a certain number of visitors will be guaranteed a parking space. A parking reservation will be particularly useful to those who are traveling great distances to visit Yosemite National Park, visitors who do not have flexibility to visit the park on any given day. The parking reservation program will allow visitors to reserve a parking space on Saturdays or Sundays only, plus the Memorial Day and Labor Day holidays. Parking reservations will be available all day, until midnight. Reservations may be canceled or rescheduled; however, reservations are non-transferable.
The National Park Service (NPS) will develop, test and refine a pilot program to require that commercial tour companies inform park managers of organized visits so that an adequate number of parking spaces remain available to accommodate oversized vehicles (commercial tour buses or motor coaches). The NPS will also provide an opportunity for park visitors to reserve a parking space for personal vehicles in an area formerly used for recreation rentals (rafting and bicycles) in Half Dome Village. Proposed actions pertain to parking areas that were designed through prior processes of environmental review and plan approval. These parking areas were designed in 2014 and are currently undergoing construction and nearing completion. No physical changes to park facilities are proposed. The NPS will conduct the pilot program from early May through September 2017, which will be repeated in peak season 2018.