With no commuters on hand to comment on higher parking fees proposed for Fairfield's railroad stations, the Parking Authority voted unanimously Thursday to raise the cost of permits as of July 1.
The yearly fees will increase for parking at both the downtown railroad station and at the Southport depot -- rising $10 from $380 to $390 downtown and $15 from $260 to $275 at Southport. Both are still less than the $420 charged by the state at the new Fairfield Metro station. Daily parking fees will remain at $6.
While no one other than authority members attended the hearing, Cindy Placko, the agency's manager, read an email from Representative Town Meeting member Michael Herley, R-1, a former member of the panel and a commuter. Herley questioned the fairness of the larger increase for those who park at Southport.
He said Southport commuters have access to fewer peak trains, and the westbound terminal is only open from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, while at the downtown station, the depot building is open until 9:30 p.m.
"The Parking Authority has no publicly disclosed plan to invest additional monies at the Southport train station that I know of beyond some potential landscaping enhancements further down the road," Herley wrote. Meanwhile, he said, the downtown station has had enhancements, such as new security cameras and canopies over the staircases.
If the Parking Authority needs to increase fees to cover its expenses, "Southport commuters should not bear the brunt of the proposed increase," he wrote.
Parking Authority Chairman Ronald Pine said that the Southport station building is basically brand-new, having been rebuilt at a cost of about $3.5 million because the previous structure was destroyed by fire several years ago. He said the authority has also agreed to the wishes of Southport residents, who oppose any use of the station by a potential lessee that serves alcohol, thereby reducing the authority's revenue stream.
Pine said even with the parking permit cost increase, Southport commuters will pay $115 less than those who use the downtown station.
Authority member Mary Kay Frost said Southport is one of the least expensive parking lots along the Metro-North Railroad line, and said at Greens Farms in Westport, which basically has the same train service as Southport, the annual parking fee is $325.
Railroad parking fees in the state range from no fee at Merritt 7, Wilton and Canondale, to $250 at Bethel, Branchville, Danbury and Redding to more than $1,000 at South Norwalk. Permit fees at South Norwalk were just raised this week from $83 a month to $90 monthly.
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