Action on the proposed parking regulations at the train station lots has been postponed again after several commuters asked that more analytical details be provided before a final decision is made.
The proposed regulations, which were discussed at a special Board of Selectmen public hearing on Sept. 16, would do away with the scratch-off voucher system, which has been in place since 1999, according to Administrative Officer Karl Kilduff.
In its place would be electronic stations, where commuters would be able to pay in person or by way of a pay-by app for smartphones.
According to Kilduff, surrounding towns that use the same system have an 85 percent usage rate for the app.
Additionally, the new regulations would increase the daily parking fee from $3 to $5, which is more in line with the surrounding towns' market rates, according to First Selectman Jayme Stevenson. The daily voucher rates have not increased since 2004.
However, an increase in the yearly parking permit fee is not being proposed.
If the proposed changes are approved, the commuters who use the vouchers daily will pay more than $1,200 a year for parking, while the permit holders pay $385 a year.
The annual permit fee has steadily increased over the years. The last permit increase in 2012 raised the fees 11.5 percent. Receiving a permit is a challenge, though. The wait for a permit at the Darien train station lot is 10 years, with 1,400 people on the list.
At the Noroton Heights lot, the wait is seven years and 1,100 people are on the list. One permit is surrendered every other month, according to Kilduff.
Historically, according to Stevenson, the vouchers were not intended to be used by the daily commuter, but rather for the occasional commuter going into the city.
"The vouchers have become an alternate to permit parking and people have been willing to pay for the higher costs," Stevenson said. "The market is clearly telling me that people who need to have annual parking permits are willing to pay more for their annual parking permits and that we should be working toward a system that may be an increase to our annual parking permit rates."
According to Kilduff, the town oversells permits by 120 percent to account for permit holders who do not regularly park in the lots.
Flora Smith, a commuter for six years, suggested that more analysis of the daily use of annual permits would be beneficial. The usage of license plate readers will accumulate data to determine how many permits are used daily, according to Kilduff. Currently, the plate readers are not used in the parking lots.
A parking enforcer drives around the lots to check for permits and vouchers, which are placed in the windows of cars.
"We don't want to be in a position of selling people annual permits and not having places for them to park," said Selectman David Bayne, who is the only selectman who is a full-time daily commuter.
Joe Warren, who works at Wild Bird Unlimited, the only location on Heights Road besides the station to sell vouchers, told the selectmen that, on average, he will sell 1,200 vouchers each month.
The increased rates, according to Kilduff, would be used to support station capital projects. Revenue generated by the vouchers and permits are used exclusively for the train lots. Some of the investments, according to Kilduff, include the installation of cameras for the lots and stations, additional platform seating, extending the Noroton Heights platform canopy, resurfacing the lots and painting the exterior of the Darien station.
In order to address the "rumors of abuse," according to Kilduff, in which people will sell or loan their permits, the proposed penalties are more strict. If permit holders are found to be "abusing" their permit, they will receive a $30 fine. If it happens again in the span of a year, the permit will be revoked and the holder will be placed at the bottom of the wait list.
Additionally, if permit holders are more than 30 days late to renew their permit, it will be revoked.
Gavin Watson, who told the selectmen he grew up in Darien, said that for the past 26 years, he has been a daily train commuter.
"I've spent a lot of time taking the 5:30 a.m. train," Watson said. He pointed out that "for years, we put quarters into meters" and that in the winter, the meters would freeze and quarters couldn't be inserted.
When the vouchers were implemented, he thought they were "brilliant."
"There's no technology and no moving parts," Watson said. "It's the most simple system."
Smith told the selectmen that she doesn't feel anyone who doesn't commute every single day could understand the morning scramble for the train.
"There is so much going on in those last two minutes to get to the train," Smith said. She told the selectmen that the same "iron mikes," another name for the pay meters, are often broken when she goes to South Norwalk to see a movie.
"I understand that we're leasing them and the maintenance is included, but when they're broken, they're broken," Smith said.
According to Karl Kilduff, the lease of the six pay meters will cost $32,000 and generate $39,000 in revenue.
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