Solution For Rail Commuters, Park In Bridgeport

Take the Bridgeport train. Rent a place downtown. From Shelly Banjo, Wall Street Journal:

FAIRFIELD, Conn.—In the Metro-North parking lots along Connecticut’s Gold Coast, the haves and the have-nots aren’t defined by their clothes, car or even their net worth. Here, it’s about whether they have a flimsy green piece of paper visible on their dashboards.

A public parking pass in this and other towns along the Long Island Sound has become a precious asset. The waiting list for a Fairfield Parking Authority permit has 4,200 people and stretches past six years. In another town, Rowayton, the annual permit sale is an epic frenzy similar to that surrounding the release of a new iPhone, with residents camping out overnight to ensure they get a $325 pass.

The privileged few often keep permits in the family, like aristocrats hoarding wealth.

“It’s like season tickets to the Giants—even when you’re dead they get passed down to your children,” said Jim Cameron, head of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, a riders’ advocacy group that has monitored the state’s parking shortage for more than a decade.

Connecticut’s parking crunch is, in large part, a problem of supply and demand: More than 60,000 commuters head toward Manhattan on Metro-North’s New Haven train line on weekdays, but transportation officials say stations have public parking for nearly 20,000. Many use more expensive private lots.

Some relief is expected next month when a new train station is set to open in Fairfield after a decade-long delay.

It will add 1,400 spots—the largest public parking infusion along the New Haven line in years—but the influx has again stirred up a long-simmering issue in the Nutmeg State’s swankier districts.

Dominic Depiano is one of the have-nots. The Fairfield-to-New York City commuter has been on a waiting list for a $340 permit for six years and rushes every morning at 6:30 a.m. to a nearby Knights of Columbus, where he can get a spot for a $4 donation.

“Parking passes are a scarce commodity here—even if people don’t need them, they won’t give them up,” Mr. Depiano said. “So people like me, we wait.”

Commuters like Mr. Depiano have new pressures looming, too. Ticket fares are slated to increase 5.25% in January. Trains are more crowded than ever as ridership surges, prompting the state to secure 405 new M-8 rail cars by 2014 to keep up with demand.

Parking woes stretch across the New York City suburbs, where proximity to a Manhattan-bound train station lures residents and drives home values.

At New Jersey’s Princeton Junction, some lots have up to eight-year waiting lists. Someone last week advertised renting his or her parking spot for $1,500 a year on the classifieds website Craigslist. On Long Island, where nearly half the public parking lots near train stations are more than 95% full, a new project to build a tunnel connecting the Long Island Rail Road with Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal by 2018 is raising questions about where an expected surge of commuters is going to park.

In Connecticut, a patchwork of local parking authorities and municipalities operate train station lots that are mostly owned by the state. The result is wildly varying prices and a dizzying array of rules that sometimes encourage residents to hold on to parking passes long after they need them to avoid the hassle of reapplying.

John Eck, a former television executive from Fairfield, kept his permit after he left his job last spring—”just in case” he needed to start commuting again.

“You hear horror stories of people missing the renewal deadline and losing the permit in other towns,” Mr. Eck said. “I wouldn’t give it up for anything.”

Town officials said the parking jam is caused, in part, by the low cost of yearly permits compared with nearby private lots. Along the New Haven line, yearly permit costs range from $279 in Greenwich to $840 in Stamford.

“We charge $345 for an annual permit, whereas the private lot nearby charges $1,280,” said Karl Kilduff, an administrative officer for the town of Darien, where the parking permit waitlist runs to seven years. “So there’s no incentive to give a permit up, even if you don’t need it.”

In April, Westport approved a $100 increase for permits, to $325, a move Mr. Kilduff said he has wanted Darien’s board of selectmen to approve for years.

But, said Mr. Cameron of the commuter council, hiking fees can be a political issue, “particularly in an election year, and getting buy-in to build more parking lots during this economic climate is even harder.”

Plans to revamp Stamford’s 800-spot parking garage and to build a 650-space lot in Stratford have stalled. Meanwhile, Gov. Dannel Malloy, to help bridge a $3 billion budget gap, closed the state’s Transportation Strategy Board, which had spent years pushing government officials to create more parking, Mr. Cameron said.

Attempts to address the parking crunch comprehensively haven’t progressed far.

In 2009, then-Gov. Jodi M. Rell created the Commuter Rail Parking Task Force headed by the current Department of Transportation commissioner, James Redeker.

Commuters, she said, “compete for limited parking spaces every day up and down our rail lines. I believe there has to be a better way.”

The task force met just three times before disbanding in 2009.

“It went nowhere,” Mr. Cameron said. “It was like the war at Vietnam—they declared victory and retreated without accomplishing anything.”

Eugene Colonese, the transportation department’s rail administrator, said the task force “came to a certain point and well, stopped its work for a little while.”

He said the department is still “looking for the best way to get commuters to stations, a balance we think will be between building more transit-oriented development, looking at shuttles and other public transportation, as well as parking improvements.”


One comment

  1. It’s sort of like making the New Jersey Turnpike into 8 lanes each way, but not increasing the entry points to NYC. You make the bottle bigger, but not the neck of the bottle. Now that’s great civil engineering and great planning.
    The parking lots should be able to accommodate as many cars as commuters. How? Try making multiple levels like Stamford’s train station. Think out of the box … ooops. Sorry, that was presumptuous of me to say that. I forgot we’re dealing with bureaucrats, not businessmen.


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