Op-Ed: Parking permits don’t always permit parking

By Frank Gordon
With the advent of the holiday season, users of the Harrison municipal commuter lots may find it increasingly difficult to find parking, even though they may have paid $600 for an annual parking permit.

Harrison shoppers heading to New York City via Metro-North are certainly a factor in the reduced availability of parking but, very likely, not the primary cause. It may come as a surprise to some commuters that the Town of Harrison issues substantially more commuter parking permits than it has parking capacity. Furthermore, the town continues to issue new commuter parking permits throughout the year so that, by the end of the year, the excess of permits over capacity is at its highest.

Harrison maintains two commuter parking lots accessible by permit. The largest is the lot directly north of and adjacent to the Manhattan-bound Metro-North tracks, right behind the Town Hall building. This lot is preferable for most commuters as it is nearest to the Harrison train station. The other lot is located at the intersection of Purdy Street and Park Avenue in downtown Harrison. This lot is not as convenient because of its greater distance from the train station. According to the town clerk’s office, the two lots have a combined capacity of 392 commuter vehicles.

The town clerk sells various parking permits, differentiated by the length of time that they are valid. The top seller is the annual parking permit, which costs $600 and is effective for the entire calendar year. The clerk also issues half-year and quarter-year permits to accommodate commuters who have temporary or seasonal needs. The cost of these shorter permits is typically pro-rated from the cost of a full-year permit. Student permits are also available at reduced cost and generally last for the summer. The clerk sells a small number of daily permits.

What exactly does a permit get you? According to the town, a commuter parking permit entitles the commuter to park one vehicle daily on a first-come, first-serve basis in either of the town’s commuter lots. That sounds like a fair deal; one that many commuters have signed up for.

What commuters may not realize though is the town issues parking permits far in excess of the 392-vehicle capacity of its commuter lots. For example, with respect to calendar year 2013, the town issued 488 annual commuter parking permits during the period from December 2012 through April 2013. That amount is 96 permits in excess of, or 124 percent of, capacity.

In addition to these annual permits, the town issued 90 partial-year and student parking permits through the first 10 months of 2013, bringing total permits issued with respect to 2013 to 578 through October.

With the lapse of some partial-year and student permits, the number of outstanding permits at the end of October stood at 547, which is 155 permits in excess of, or 140 percent of, capacity. The chart below details the town’s commuter parking permit activity with respect to the 2013 calendar year—numbers of permits exclude daily permits. In light of this data, it comes as no surprise that, at this time of year, commuters are finding it more difficult to park despite having a permit.

The town’s practice of issuing permits well in excess of parking capacity likely has differing impacts on commuters, depending on when they arrive at the train station. Commuters with permits who arrive in the period prior to 8:30 a.m. may find ample opportunities to park because the preferred lot is not yet full. After that time, as the preferred lot nears capacity, the search for a vacant spot may become increasingly exasperating and fruitless. The result is two classes of commuters.

Call those that arrive prior to 8:30 a.m. the “early birds” and those that arrive thereafter the “later gators.”

The early birds are satisfied with their parking situation and see no reason to complain; the later gators are left gnashing their teeth at the lack of parking and the town’s apparent incompetency.

Other towns seem to handle these circumstances differently. Some issue commuter parking permits up to the municipal lot capacity, then employ a waiting list. As capacity becomes available, permits are offered to the next commuters on the list, based on longevity of time on the list. Other towns offer multi-tiered permit pricing systems such as the following: Harrison may want to consider offering an incentive for commuters to use the town’s less popular Purdy Street lot, which generally has spaces available. The town could implement a two-tier pricing system whereby commuters who agreed to park solely in that lot would pay a reduced annual fee, say $500, for a permit. Permit holders for the other more popular lot would continue to pay the full $600 fee.

Given the current state of affairs in Harrison, what does the cost of a $600 annual commuter parking permit get you? It is a bit like an entry fee for a game of musical chairs but, in this case, the chairs are parking spaces. Unfortunately, when the music stops, you may or may not have a place to park. Commuters may want to consider these facts as the date approaches to renew their parking permits for 2014.