The Plight of the Train Station Parker

I have talked to commuters who could write entire books about their experiences trying to park at train stations across Connecticut. Those books may not be page-turners…but I’m sure many of you would relate to them. Let’s start with the fact that many waiting lists for monthly parking permits in the towns along the I-95 corridor are several years long — the last I heard, it takes six years to get one in Darien.

This means that many daily train-riders in Connecticut are also daily parkers, paying $8 or more a day in some areas to park at the train station and ride into Manhattan or wherever their final destination may be. Sean Haubert is one of those. He lives in Stratford and commutes to Manhattan each day. Not only does that mean a 90-minute train ride; it means a 10-minute drive to the train station. He gets up around 5 a.m. to get his kid ready for school, and he’s out the door around 7. He drops his kid off, looks desperately for a parking space, and hurries to his train. But lately, he also has to worry about something else – getting a parking ticket.

Of which he already has many. “I have this wad of parking tickets…I probably have about 20 or 20,” Haubert told me as he got out of his car at the Stratford station on a recent weekday morning. (I parked at the restaurant parking; luckily, didn’t get a ticket for parking there for about 20 minutes).

Sometimes Haubert doesn’t get a parking spot, so he parks in the monthly space and gets a $25 ticket. Or he drives to Bridgeport.

Haubert says he got these tickets because the parking payment machines at the Stratford train station weren’t working for several weeks. So instead of paying $5 a day for parking, commuters got a $5 parking ticket every day – but since most of them pay it online, the price jumps up because of a $3.50 convenience fee. The difference adds up after a few weeks, Haubert tells me. And it’s frustrating.

“We have a long commute…but we choose it. The last thing we want to do is just be stressed out that, ‘is there going to be a parking ticket when I get to the station,’ you know? Are there going to be any spots left?’”

A spokesman from the Stratford mayor’s office told me the payment machines have finally been fixed, but that there’s nothing to be done about online “convenience” fee since an outside vendor takes care of that system. Tickets can be paid in-person at Town Hall — but that’s not all that helpful for Haubert, who works in New York City all day. Meanwhile, the town is working with the state to add 400 surface parking spaces near the train station in the future – but for now, Haubert still has to fight for a spot every day. He’s on the waiting list for a monthly parking permit, but he’s not sure how long that’ll take. His call to the guy in charge at Stratford’s railroad office wasn’t that helpful.

“The last time I heard, I was four hundred and something, but he wouldn’t say what that meant,” Haubert said.

It probably means he has something like a three-year wait for a monthly permit. If he lived in other small towns along I-95 like Darien or Westport, the wait could be twice as long.

Stratford commuters, and others — weigh in with your experiences and questions. What do you do if you can’t find a parking space at the train station? Do you park in a zone you shouldn’t, costing you $25, as Haubert told me he sometimes has to? Do you drive over to Bridgeport or another station?

I have some very cool pictures of train station parking back in the day that I’ll post next week.

A version of this story ran on WNPR/Connecticut Public Radio and can be found here.