Parking demand at Greater Bridgeport Station is slowly climbing to pre-COVID levels

More than two years into a global pandemic, a visual sign of recovery has presented itself in an unusual form: train station parking lots.

Parking lots remained mostly empty when the COVID-19 pandemic brought a partial shutdown to normal society. But as work from home and other restrictions begin to end, officials say parking lots at the station in the greater Bridgeport area have started to fill up again – albeit slowly.

“The waiting list has been significantly reduced due to the pandemic,” said Milford Transit District Executive Director Henry Jadach. “At one point there was a three-year wait for a parking permit.”

He said the waiting list is now down to less than 100 places and after the renewal on April 1, anyone remaining on the list will have a minimum wait of six months before being offered a permit.

“We are now in our April 1 license renewal period,” he said. “If everyone who has been offered permits decides to take them, there will be approximately 425 permit holders in four batches of permits.”

Jadach said the situation was totally different during the pandemic, when train usage fell to less than 5% at the start of the pandemic in 2020. He said the parking lots were almost empty.

But parking gradually returned, Jadach said, as pandemic conditions changed. Still, he said it was only about 50 per cent of what it was before the pandemic at Milford.

The situation is similar to Fairfield, which has three different stations operated by two different entities. There is no waiting list at Fairfield Center and Southport stations, said Mackenzie Riley, staff specialist at the Fairfield Parking Authority.

“Parking at stations is gradually increasing,” she said. “It’s not back to pre-pandemic levels.”

Historically, Riley said, summers and Fridays were the lowest usage times. She said there are plenty of people who continue to move around enough for a permit to be more profitable.

Meanwhile, officials said the Fairfield subway station and Bridgeport train station, whose parking lots are overseen by the Connecticut Department of Transportation, are still not reaching capacity as they were before the pandemic.

“Before the pandemic, most lots on the New Haven line were considered full,” said DOT communications manager Josh Morgan. “Parking lot traffic and usage has fluctuated throughout the pandemic, with changes attributed to telecommuting and stay-at-home orders, and other public health factors, such as the recent omicron surge. “

Like other stations, Morgan said, Fairfield Metro and Bridgeport are not at 100% capacity on weekdays. However, he said parking usage continues to increase, which is also reflected in more passengers now returning to rail service.

In Stratford, Michael Downes, chief of staff to Mayor Laura Hoydick, said the city used to see full lots, but at the height of the pandemic, space usage was below 10 % of total capacity. He said there was even a day in August 2020 when only two of the 473 spots were used.

Downes said batches were still not seeing even half capacity. The highest mark this year was just under 42% on March 18, according to data provided by the city.

“We still don’t see pre-pandemic numbers, we’re a long way from that, but you definitely felt the needle move with it,” Downes said.

There were 300 to 400 people on the city’s waiting list, Downes said, but due to a high level of non-renewals during the pandemic, the city was able to go through it. He said the city was offering renewal discounts during the pandemic, so residents who didn’t want to lose their spot and be on the waitlist again could better afford it. Twice they offered two months free on certain spaces to help bring the price down, he said, noting that people were going after the city.

“They don’t want to give up their license because they’re afraid to go back on the waitlist and they can be on the waitlist for a year or two,” Downes said.

In Westport, Police Lt. Dave Wolf said it was much easier to park at the town’s two train stations during the pandemic because very few people were commuting. He said there had been a substantial increase in the number of people parking at stations.

“We are not at pre-pandemic levels, but we are definitely moving in that direction,” he said, noting that there is no waiting list for parking lots and that 3 750 space permits were issued.

Rick Dunne, executive director of the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments, said estimating parking capacity in Ansonia and Derby can be tricky because there is no charge to park in these car parks.

“Suffice it to say that the Ansonia remains busy and full without enough spaces for the station and while Derby has seen a noticeable drop during COVID, we are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of cars parked each day,” he said. -he declares.

Dunne said there had always been a shortage of parking for commuters, even before the pandemic, and it was expensive even when available.

“The state has always needed to build more parking lots or the private operators have to,” he said.

As for the Waterbury line, Dunne said officials have seen the smallest pandemic drop in Metro North ridership of any part of the rail system — and ridership is coming back strong and fast.

“A good predictor of rail demand is that peak hour road traffic has returned to what it was before the pandemic – so as we add train service we expect it to fill up. also quickly,” he said. “Demand remains for additional service, and we look forward to seven new trains this year to fill the gaps and make the line more convenient and attractive for daily commuters. Within five years, we expect the line to provide half-hour service during peak hours and one hour the rest of the day. »

Parking in Ansonia and Derby has always been free, Dunne said, but Derby’s ground was full before the pandemic and there aren’t many spaces available for commuters in Ansonia. Anecdotally, he said, Ansonia hasn’t had excess capacity even during COVID and Derby has dropped around 50% but is now climbing back towards full capacity.

“We expect to see more hybrid parking shuttles, but that doesn’t really relieve parking demands, because if you need a certain number of spaces for the peak day of the week, that’s the number. places you need,” he said. noted. “It’s not like you need fewer spaces just because people don’t commute on Mondays or Fridays anymore. You still need to create as many spaces as needed to accommodate all commuters on Wednesday.

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James H. Wright