Commuters balk at T parking rate increases

By Jennifer Fenn Lefferts
Globe Correspondent / November 13, 2008
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Renee Delconte just shook her head as she looked at the sign announcing new parking rates for the West Concord commuter rail station. The Maynard resident takes the train twice a week to Boston for school and will now see her costs doubling.

"I kind of hate it," she said.

Delconte said she might start parking at the Alewife station in Cambridge and take the Red Line into the city. But she scrapped those plans when she heard that parking there will also go up, starting Saturday.

"I get it, but I don't like it," she said.

The MBTA says it is raising the parking rates at area commuter rail stations to help make up a budget shortfall. The rate will jump from $2 a day to $4 at MBTA-owned commuter rail parking lots, and from $5 to $7 a day at the Alewife parking garage. The new rates have left many commuters scrambling to find cheaper options.

But some, like Delconte, don't have a good alternative: The median rate for parking in downtown Boston is $33 a day, according to a national parking rate survey for 2008. A number of commuters say they will be scouring the region looking for less expensive parking.

Ioana Santau of Littleton said she probably won't take the 9:33 a.m. train each day from West Concord. Santau said she parks there because it always has spaces available, even after rush hour. But now, she'll keep driving to the Concord station, where a local grocer, Crosby's Marketplace, offers a limited number of free parking spaces for commuters.

"I only work part-time, so between that and paying for the train, parking, and the subway, it's adding up," Santau said. "Four dollars is too much. If they would do it gradually, it would be better."

Ivan Nestorov of Acton uses the West Concord lot each day because he can't find a space in South Acton. But now he plans to buy a local parking sticker and fight for a space in South Acton instead of paying the new fee in West Concord.

"I don't like it," he said. "It's not a way to encourage people to use the commuter rail."

Nestorov said he recently relocated from Seattle, where the government provides free park-and-ride lots to encourage public transportation.

Joe Pesaturo, a spokesman for the MBTA, said it's been nearly six years since the parking fees were increased at MBTA commuter rail parking facilities.

"While regrettable, the new parking rate structure is necessary to maintain existing levels of service and remains well below daily parking rates charged in Boston and continues to be competitive with privately owned facilities near many MBTA stations," he said via e-mail.

The transit authority said parking rates will go up at the Wakefield, Reading, Ballardville, Andover, Bradford, and Haverhill stations on the Haverhill line; Anderson, Wilmington, and North Billerica on the Lowell line, and West Concord on the Fitchburg line.

Discounts are still available for commuters who park in the community in which they live, but those rates may go up as well. In North Billerica, for example, the daily resident rate will double from $1 to $2.

The increases are associated with MBTA-owned garages and lots; however, parking fee hikes are taking place at other transportation centers as well.

In Lowell, the Lowell Regional Transit Authority will increase the rate at the Gallagher Transportation Terminal to coincide with the MBTA's parking hike. The daily rate will rise to $5 from $4; the cost of a monthly pass will not change, said LRTA Administrator Jim Scanlan.

Scanlan said by keeping the monthly rate at $45, most daily commuters won't be affected. He said the $1 increase will most impact those who take the train to Boston infrequently.

Also, by keeping the monthly pass level, Scanlan said he hopes to attract some commuters from North Billerica, where the parking rates for non-Billerica residents will double from $2 to $4.

"We have some capacity I'd like to make use of," he said.

While the new rates will hit some commuters hard, at least one said the cost is still a bargain.

"If you park in Boston, it's going to cost you $30," said Jennifer Kelley of Acton, who takes the train from West Concord about once every six weeks.

Pesaturo said the MBTA is facing its most daunting financial challenge since the Legislature established a new funding source nine years ago that called for using a penny of the state's sales tax. At the same time, the T has $8 billion in debt for projects built in the 1980s and 1990s.

Despite the challenges, he said the transit authority has taken a number of steps to increase revenue and control costs. Among those, he said, the MBTA has made improvements and pursued initiatives to increase ridership - 2008 has been the best year for ridership in the agency's history.

But he said those steps aren't enough, especially in light of the nation's current economic conditions. Given the MBTA's financial woes, Pesaturo said it has no choice.

"The MBTA, like many transportation agencies and other public entities, has been left with the unenviable choice of seeking fee increases or reducing services," he said.

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at

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