Magazine

Park-and-Ride Parking -- Some Find It Simple, Some Complex

John Van Horn

Park-and-ride parking started as an uncomplicated process in the villages of Deerfield and Palatine, IL, and Suffern, NY. But problems can come from unexpected places.
The Illinois communities are on the commuter rail lines that service downtown Chicago. They are the "burbs" to where folks move to get out of the city, but still work there.
According to Robert Fialkowski, the Chief Financial Officer of Deerfield, the parking operation is fairly simple. People park, put their money in an honor box, and that's it. Well, almost.
The train station and its associated parking are located across the street from the main shopping center in the community and its associated parking. So why would someone pay a couple of bucks to park when they can park in the nearby lot for free?
The city instituted a series of regulations and permits to keep everyone honest. Since most of the people who take the train leave before 9 a.m., and most of the stores don't open until 10 or so, signage tells parkers that unless they have a permit (usually issued to store employees or delivery vehicles), they may not park in the lot before 10 a.m.
After 10, parking is limited to a couple of hours, with traffic officers using chalk to ensure that vehicles are moved in the proper amount of time.
When PT was at the site, we noticed a police car prominently parked in the shopping center lot. It takes a lot of courage to park your car illegally and walk past the police to cross the street to the train station.
When asked why the village didn't use a more cutting-edge system to track the funds, Fialkowski said that, frankly, the "tidal" nature of the park-and-ride (that is, everyone comes in about the same time and leaves about the same time) makes it unnecessary.
Around 11 a.m., the enforcement people check the honor boxes and then check the stalls. Those that haven't paid are ticketed. "It takes only a few minutes to complete the process," he said. "It's hard to justify the expense when we really don't have a problem."
Fialkowski told PT that the money generated from the parking operation was enough to pay for the cost of collection and enforcement. The village had neither the desire nor the need to make money from the parking.
Palatine, however, has a slightly different story. According to its Director of Public Works, Andrew Radetski, its train station is popular for riders from communities surrounding the area. Its parking issue was overcrowding. The rail line assisted the village in building a parking structure, and funds from the parking operation, in addition to paying for enforcement, are retiring part of the debt.
Politics has gently intruded here. The political climate isn't right for raising the parking fees. On the other hand, a large number of the parkers come from outside the area and use the parking facilities at the station. "They don't shop or eat here," Radetski said.
His other concern was that Palatine had little control over the garage rates. Since some of the funding came from the state and the rail line, they were able to restrict the options the village has in setting variable rates. Radetski would have liked to perhaps vary rates between the locals and visitors, but it was not in the cards. The village had to follow the instructions of those that provided the money.
He also said that the village had tried using pay-and-display machines, but had had some technical problems with the machines. Those took a while to resolve, and the village elected to return the machines. (They had been installed on a "pay for them if you like them" deal.)
"By the time the problems were sorted out, most parkers were fed up with the machines," Radetski said. "We went back to the honor boxes."
A few states away, Suffern has a different issue. It has a parking problem and a commuter station. The state of New York and the federal government will pony up some money, called "free money" by Mayor James Giannettino. However, he added, "It must do good, too."
Suffern has surface lots throughout the community and sells commuter permits to those who ride the trains and park in the lots. There has been considerable shuffling of commuter and commercial parking due to requests from merchants to free up parking close to the business center. This has caused some consternation among the commuters.
In the end, the money is available for a structure. What Mayor Giannettino and his group need to decide is whether the strings attached to the state and federal money are acceptable. Maybe a call to Palatine's Mayor Rita Mullins would be in order.

Article Abstract from March, 2004




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