Railroad Parking: The Police Respond

Hundreds of commuters saw Sunday’s “06880” post, on commuter parking at the railroad stations.

But no one read it more avidly than Fotios Koskinas.

Westport PoliceThe Westport Police Department oversees the Saugatuck and Green’s Farms stations. As deputy chief and director of railroad operations, Koskinas is the man in charge. He works closely with Police Chief Dale Call, who before his promotion handled that task.

“This is a public service,” Koskinas says. “We want to help. I meet with commuters at both stations. We’re totally open to suggestions.” The only caveats: “They have to be realistic, and benefit many commuters — not just a few.”

Koskinas offers point-by-point responses to the issues raised in Sunday’s post, and comments added by “06880” readers.

To the original complaint that “the police station is not open on weekends, or hours that a working commuter can use. If you are restricted to paying online, egregious late fees kick in”: There is a 14-day period from the date the ticket is issued to pay it. There is no late charge or fee as long as it is on time.

To the problem of paying for more than one vehicle online: Enter your ticket number, and you can pay it on the days you drive a different car.

train station parking

To Jonas Shapiro, who wondered how many stickers are held by people who hardly ever use them: People who pay for permits but don’t use them subsidize everyone else who does. We issue more permits than there are spaces. The formula is based on the the number of vacant spaces over time. If permits were issued only on the number of spaces available, the cost per permit would be far higher — and the wait for a permit far longer.

To Tom Prince, who commented on large cars parking in “compact” spaces, the use of “favored” parking, and seemingly able-bodied people parking in handicap spaces: There are no specific spaces marked for “compact” cars. If some are narrower compared to others it is because at some time someone painted a narrow space.

As for “favors”: No one should get to park for free “just because.” But that same officer also finds places for people who are running late or even on time but can’t find a spot, as well as employees who don’t have parking.

Handicap permitHandicap permit misuse is not limited to the train station.  Enforcing that means stopping every “healthy” looking person to find out what their handicap is. Cars parking in a handicap spot without a permit receive a $25 ticket.

To Pinya Klotz, who said that parking permits should be available to any resident who pays property taxes on their vehicle, without a wait list and on a first-come, first-serve basis, and who asked for an accounting of the parking fees: Parking is already first-come, first serve for permits and daily spaces. I’m not sure how giving every resident who pays taxes would work in practice when the demand already far outstrips the supply. 

The revenue is managed by the Finance Department. The budget is public and goes before the Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance and RTM every year.

To Michael Smith, who discussed differences in lists between Westport and Weston residents, and long wait times: 

The previous system of two lists ended last year (the state has a say in this). Currently the earliest date on the list is January 2010. The delay in issuing permits comes about because we have to give people time to respond. Because contact information changes, we follow up with letters and a phone call. Currently, about 30% of those contacted actually buy a permit. The rest either decline or never respond back. We are always trying to find a better way to get through the list.

Train station

To Bart Shuldman, who commented on a $50,000 license plate scanning device: We have a $20,000 license plate reader that identifies parking scofflaws and, when working properly, identifies non-permit vehicles parked in permit- only spaces. That was re-appropriated from a request in the railroad parking budget for a new truck that we did not purchase (we re-purposed an older truck for the custodian to use).

To Nancy Hunter Wilson, who wondered why there is no shuttle bus to the station: There is one. It exists from the Imperial Avenue parking lot to the train station. The average daily vehicle count in that lot for that shuttle is 12-14 cars.

To Nancy Hunter Wilson, who also said that inside tags, rather than outside stickers, could be easily moved from one car to a spouse’s if needed: Anyone needing to drive a temporary vehicle should contact Railroad Parking. Let us know the plate number, and put a note with the permit number in the windshield. This works most of the time, except when something gets lost in communication.

(For more information, or to contact Railroad Parking, click here. Deputy Chief Koskinas is also available at 203-341-6061. He is happy to field any questions, answer any concerns, and try to implement solid suggestions.)

24 responses to “Railroad Parking: The Police Respond

  1. As a daily commuter, I certainly appreciate the issues and frustrations with train parking, but it was very helpful to hear the other side. The system isn’t perfect, but the town was dealt a bad hand and seems to be playing it the best that it can.

  2. Matthew Mandell

    Foti does a great job. You see the renovated stations? And he’s a cop not a designer……

    There are always issues especially with so many moving parts. One thing not mentioned is increased bus service, not just the shuttle from Imperial.. Our transit district folks are trying hard, but they need support.

  3. The narrow spaces are from the recent reconfiguring of the lots, not from some long-ago era. Mark them appropriately or repaint them. Handicap-parking permits are abused at places other than the train station and require enforcement, Koskinas says. Agreed. So why not try some enforcement?

  4. I once asked the police officer for a special favor several years ago. Daily parking wasn’t allowed until 9:30 AM. My wife and I had to go to NYC at 9:10 for her chemo treatment and I knew she would need to get home quickly afterward. When we returned, she barely made it to the car because she was so weak and sick from the chemo. Every time I see that officer, I thank him profusely for doing us a “special favor”.
    He just considered it doing his duty.

  5. Why does the Westport Police department manage parking and vendor management at the railroad station? No disrespect to Deputy Chief Koskinas, but these administrative duties do not seem to be the best use of a well compensated and highly trained senior law enforcement officer’s time.

  6. Dan – Thank you for using your blog to initiating a true dialog. It is something that is surprisingly lacking in so many parts of our community and society. I also appreciate Officer Koskinas for his thoughtful and thorough responses. It is particularly helpful to hear from some of the people who are working hard to address the needs of the community and demonstrate the thoughtfulness that goes into managing a scarce resource for the community (RR parking).

  7. Mr. Mandell cites “…increased bus service…” Didn’t the Board of Finance budget cuts of a few years ago reduce service? Has that service been reinstated? Are there more routes now? Are there more frequent buses?

  8. Ditto what Rob Stone said.

  9. Police Chief Dale Call asked me to add this:

    To the original complaint that “the police station is not open on weekends, or hours that a working commuter can use. If you are restricted to paying online, egregious late fees kick in”:

    There is a drop box at police headquarters in the lobby for payments (and it gets used regularly by folks who do not want to use the online system). The police station is open 24/7/365 and checks can be dropped off there at any time and on any day.

    If payment is made after hours or on weekends for a ticket that is hitting that 14-day limit, the clerks are supposed to void the late fees if they show up in the computer, as long as the check was dropped off before the 14 days is up. Example – the 14th day falls on a Saturday and the check is picked up Monday morning…or even if the 14th day is Friday but is dropped off after hours on that Friday. Clearly, that fact is not made clear on the website so we will add it to the FAQ section of the RRP page.

    If that gets missed and the late charge is assessed let us know so we can take care of it.

    We have been looking at returning a dropbox to the westbound station in Saugatuck (that can’t get stolen) for those who don’t want to drive to the police station. There is no place to put one in at Greens Farms that would be secure.

  10. To avoid peaks and valleys in the Police Department processing of parking payments, I would think that the Police Department should sell monthly tickets for the “daily” spots, for someone who is on the waiting list. Hang it from the rear view mirror. That way, the Police only have to check the dates, they don’t have to write a ticket every day — saves time. And the parker needs only write one check.

    I would think the regular annual stickers should renew equally during the year. Until this year there were two cycles and they went to everyone coming due at the same time. This will create a tidal wave of paper in one month and nothing the other 11 months. Last time I was in the Parks & Rec office in April they had a number of temporary workers to process all the renewals of beach stickers and hand passes. While Parks & Rec has to deal with the seasonal opening of the beach and Longshore pool, RR parking is all year round.

  11. Thanks to the Westport Police and a few hard working individuals…the train station is much better than what it use to be and the system works… If you want to pay your parking ticket on time …you will make time! If it is low on your priority list…suck the fine up. The only complaint I have and believe me…we have it a thousand times better than other places , would be creating more spaces…but last time I heard they were not making anymore real estate so that becomes a mute point!

  12. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    It’s good to keep asking questions, and find answers.

  13. I think “stopping every healthy looking person” to find out what his or her disability is is discrimination. Many people have hidden disabilities. If they have a handicapped sticker, they have it for a reason.

    • Amy,

      You would be surprised how many people misuse handicapped stickers. Had a brief conversation with the enforcement cop and he confirmed that they monitor misuse. Not enough in my view.

  14. When they pull up to the train platform, leap out of a two-story Humvee, execute a triple tuck, AND stick the landing, it’s a hint they’re not handicapped.

  15. You’d be surprised how many people with chronic illnesses feel well one moment and and hour or two later are completed depleted. Walk a mile in my shoes……

    • Some time ago there was a cute red headed girl that I saw on the train from GCT regularly. Every time without fail, she bounded out of the car, ran down and ran up the stains (sticking the landing) and into her Volvo station wagon or SUV (I think or some similarly sized vehicle) in a handicapped spot. Haven’t seen her or her car in awhile. I hope the cop got her and took the handicapped sticker away.

  16. It’s not about you. It’s about the people who stubbed their toe five years ago in Boca or Cabo and still think they deserve an accommodation.

  17. To the question about Westport shuttle bus service, in addition to the Imperial Lot Shuttle which Officer Foti mentioned, there are 4 commuter routes which operate from 6 am until about 8 am throughout Westport. From 6 pm until about 7:30 pm, there are a similar number of return routes (and the Imperial Shuttle which runs until 8 pm). And there are two routes which serve Greens Farms RR too. Go to http://www.westporttransit.org to get more info. Budget cuts over the past decade have reduced service but since the “midnight massacre” in 2012 when the the BOF voted to totally eliminate transit funding, there has been a strong grassroots support for our transit services from commuters, seniors, people with disabilities, students and citizens concerned about congestion, air pollution, rr and downtown parking etc. Thankfully, too, our Selectman candidates are stated their strong support for Westport Transit during the debates. So now instead of killing transit, we are now focused on making it better for riders, administrators and taxpayers. Comments welcome at http://www.wpctc@westportct.gov.

    Westport Transit District, “We’ll get you there!”

  18. Whoa, really? I recall Avi Kaner on the BOF questioning and trying to eviscerate the Westport Transit District’s budget every year. I think the RTM restored money at least once (last year?) that Avi led the fight to cut. It seemed like he had a vendetta against public transportation. Glad to hear he has now seen the light. Amazing what running for Selectman can do for you.

  19. John – this is from the Patch report in 2012. I still believe the routes must be reconfigured to make more usable. For example, they do not currently stop at the park and ride lots. This is not a political issue.

    “The cost to maintain the existing shuttle network was exorbitant given the low ridership. The current routes benefit a small number of commuters living directly on those lines,” said Board of Finance Chair Avi Kaner.

    It costs an average of $4,527 ($924 Westport subsidy) to transport each commuter to the Saugatuck station on an annual basis, and the shuttle has about 68 riders a day. It costs an average of $6,240 ($1,484 Westport subsidy) to transport each commuter to the Greens Farms station, but the shuttle accommodates only about 21 riders per day, according to statistical analysis provided by Kaner.

    Board of Finance Vice Chair Helen Garten said the analysis on the shuttle system indicates that the cost per ride is extremely high.

    “When I look at the transit district budget, I want to be sure that the service is cost effective, convenient and available to all Westporters who wish to use it,” Garten said.

    • John McCarthy

      Avi,
      From hearing you discuss the Transit district’s budget over several years, my impression was that you believed that taxpayers should not be subsidizing public transportation in Westport. And that the Transit District should become fully self supporting through rider fares via a combination of fare increases and service reductions. Which would make Westport the only municipality in the country to accomplish this feat. The more likely outcome of such a policy would guarantee that Westport Transit would die a quick death, or so said the transit experts. Given the relatively small subsidy the town pays for the service, your focus on this matter always seemed to me to be misplaced. And driven by a strongly felt belief which I disagreed with, but respected. That is why I expressed surprise when I read above that Jim Ross said that the Selectmen candidates all support Westport Transit and that there is no longer a focus on killing the transit district. If you have changed your philosophy, fantastic and welcome.

      John

  20. John – you misunderstood. My objective was to make the system more efficient – eg consolidate routes, add stops at park and ride lots, etc. We are one of the few towns that even has this service. I certainly want to make it work, and am impressed by the new focus. Please feel free to email me directly with ideas.