BEDFORD, N.Y. – Not long ago, a commuter could wait years to get an annual permit for a preferred parking lot at Metro-North’s Katonah or Bedford Hills train station. Today, says the town official who oversees the coveted permits, that delay has been reduced to months.
Along with the shorter wait times have come a reduced number of commuters looking for permits and even some talk of valet parking service.
“We really have not sold more permits than we did in the past,” Comptroller Abraham Zambrano said in discussing the reductions. Instead, he told a Town Board meeting this month, his office has been energetically scrubbing non-residents from the ranks of permit holders and applicants. At the same time, his staff is encouraging occasional rail riders to use single-day parking passes rather than keep or apply for the annual permit.
As a result, Zambrano said, wait times have gone from as long as four-plus years in June 2016 to as little as 13 months today. The number of people on the permit list also dropped, from 496 to 248 over the same period, he said.
Better technology has helped screen out former and never-were residents of Bedford from the permit-allocation waiting list. License-plate-recognition (LPR) cameras, first mounted on the town’s police cars a decade ago to detect in seconds anything from expired registrations to wanted fugitives, now also feed data into a parking-application software. The app compares license-plate scans and registrations to identify, for example, cars with out-of-town owners.
In a memo to the board last month, Zambrano said the “new software requires that parking customers create an account and submit copies of vehicle registrations before the permit is issued.”
All told, the town’s eight parking lots provide 1,149 parking spaces, with 170 of them metered to accommodate occasional riders and the remaining 979 going to permit holders.
With a few exceptions (some businesses among them), only Bedford residents—people living within Bedford’s borders, not just owning land there—can buy a permit. Priced at $506 (or $456 for hybrid vehicles), the permit is good Monday through Friday from July 1 to June 30. Parking is free on weekends and most major holidays. But while permits convey a right to park in a specific lot, they neither guarantee the commuter will find a space there nor allow parking in one of the others.
A pecking order of popularity, largely based on their proximity to the railroad stations they serve, distinguishes the lots. Katonah’s Lot 1, for example, at 2 Jay St., sits beside the station and Lot 2 is two blocks south. But Lot 3, at 50 Woods Bridge Road, is a 5- or 10-minute trek through the elements to reach the platform. It is also, for non-residents and first-time permit seekers, their sole option.
In Bedford Hills, Lot 7, has 65 spots available, 55 of them for permit holders. But reaching the train station means climbing a steep hill, on a twisting road pedestrian commuters share with cars, trucks and buses. The lot is so unpopular only 44 permits have been sold.
Councilman Don Scott, for one, sees an opportunity to establish a valet parking service in the underused lot. Charging perhaps double the annual permit rate, the service might “be able to fill Lot 7 and use the...parking spaces more efficiently to stack cars,” Scott said at the April 2 board meeting.
“You might find that there’s a rush to be on a valet-parking lineup if the numbers work and...it would have the effect of freeing up the waiting list. Am I crazy?”
“No,” Zambrano responded, “I think you’re on to something.”
But Supervisor Chris Burdick, recalling an earlier effort to install a vendor for such a service, said, “My recollection of the last time is that they really wanted to see us turn over a full parking lot to them and to give them a pretty long-term commitment. And we would lose a great deal of control over the lot.”
Still, he suggested, if the town can’t fully whittle down wait times “we ought to take another look at it.”
Zambrano, asked whether he could reduce the number of permits that see infrequent use, said many residents “have had permits for the last umpteen years—and they only use them once or twice a month.”
“We suggested that instead of getting a [yearly] permit, we could sell you a block of [$10] daily permits that you can then put on your dashboard.”