Thursday, June 17, 2010

Discussion starts about parking at the train station

A number of residents showed up at tonight's Borough Council meeting to discuss parking at the Elizabethtown Train Station, especially since the parking lot is torn apart at the moment so it can be paved as part of the $9 million in renovations.

Specifically, they wanted to address rumors that Borough Council was going to vote tonight to assess a fee for parking.

For the record, the topic was not on the agenda. We have not decided to to assess a fee or not, although we have had informal discussions and are investigating the pros and cons of parking fees or no parking fees.

Tonight, six or seven people -- all of whom ride the train from Elizabethtown and mostly work in Harrisburg, from what I gathered -- addressed Borough Council. Some were borough residents, and one each from Mount Joy Township and West Donegal Township.

The consensus from the comments was that "anything beyond a nominal charge would be too much," in the words of borough resident Ben Donahower.

To everyone's credit, though, they want to be a part of the conversation and come up with a solution. That is great because it is not often that Borough Council has residents request to be part of the solution from the start. So many times, residents come to complain -- and it's refreshing to know that there's a group that wants to participate.

With that in mind, let me lay out the thoughts that came up this evening and that Borough Council has discussed. Then, let's start the conversation here in the comments. Before I dive into this, let me remind everyone that I moderate the comments because I get pornographic spam. I have pledged to post comments that are critical of me, the borough and Borough Council.

That said, I know this can potentially be an emotional issue for some, so I ask that we all treat each other with respect. This is my blog, and I reserve the right to reject and/or edit any comments that are obscene, vulgar, offensive or personal attacks.

Here, then, are issues about parking fees at the Elizabethtown Train Station:
  • Tenants from the apartment building across the street use the train station parking lot -- despite having parking behind their building. Scott Little, a train rider from Mount Joy Township, referenced this in his comments, and it's something Borough Council has discussed. By requiring payment for parking, it would keep those residents from using the lot as their personal space.
  • Yes, taxpayers are footing the bill for the train station via the federal stimulus funding -- but that's only for the construction. What happens in five or 10 years when an elevator breaks down, the pavement cracks, landscaping needs to be replanted or replaced? Shouldn't the borough have a source of funding, via parking fees, to help alleviate the maintenance costs?
  • Donahower mentioned "anything beyond a nominal charge would be too much." What is a nominal charge? He said it costs $120 to ride the train to Harrisburg each month and $130 to park in downtown Harrisburg (wow! I was paying $110 10 years ago). So if we charged more than the $10 difference, economics might cause people to rethink the train ride. But what about the costs of gas and wear and tear on one's car? And of course there are things you can't tie to money: the stress of driving in Harrisburg rush-hour traffic, the ability to nap, read a book or the newspaper.
  • One resident from West Donegal Township said if the borough charges for parking, many riders might head to Middletown to catch the train. Parking is free there, and the train ticket to Harrisburg cheaper. Borough Council knows this. Let's talk about it.
  • How do we assess fees for daily commuters vs. people who might spend the weekend in Philadelphia or take the train on a week long vacation?
  • There are borough residents who never ride the train and never will. Is it fair for them to pay taxes for maintenance at the train station?
Borough Council is exploring all of these issues, and we want feedback from everyone. What haven't we thought about? What solution do you have?

Let's talk about it here.


  1. I don't ever really ride the train that much, but I believe it's a great service to have. I think it's important to have some kind of small fee to help with costs over time, and to keep others from randomly parking there when they shouldn't be.

    Is it possible to have some sort of system, for those who ride the train every day, that they could buy a discounted parking rate for the year? Maybe it's half the price of a one time parking pass?

    Just an idea. Thanks for the opportunity for discussion Jeff.

  2. Thanks for bringing up the cost of gas. I didn’t go through my full calculus at the meeting, so as not to overstay my welcome at the podium. I’m also going to express my thoughts on overall costs to the borough as well in a different section.



    Gas cost (sans maintenance since that is so variable depending upon the vehicle) is $4.38 from Etown to Harrisburg round trip by car times twenty is a cost of about $85 a month.
    While much smaller, many borough residents and other train riders can expect to pay $20 or $30 a month in gas to and from the station.

    Add the difference in parking and there is a $45 or $55 window to charge commuters without pushing them away for personal finance reasons. I don't believe that is the case.

    1. A number of us have parking paid for by our employer in Harrisburg
    2. A number of us are able to pay for our parking with pretax dollars

    In the case of the latter, the costs may be a wash or worse depending upon one’s tax bracket.
    In the case of the former, train commuters are already taking a hit, so they clearly believe the intangible benefits outweigh the economic ones. With that said, riding the train isn’t always the most convenient: the train has been delayed by more than a half hour three times in the three months causing many of us to be late to work. While there is traffic on the road there are also alternate routes, the ability to leave earlier if there is a known problem, etc. which are luxuries we don’t have at the station. There is a cost benefit analysis for each commuter and additional costs to them may push some of these commuters to the roadways.

    Finally, as a resident pointed out at the council meeting, particularly if a train rider lives between the Etown and Middletown stations or even between the Etown and Mount Joy stations they may choose a slightly less convenience station but one that is more economical for them since they do not charge for parking.


    I understand, however, that this is primarily an issue of costs to the borough and how to make provisions to keep the station in working order. There are more factors at play than just the cost associated with maintenance:

    1. Economic development benefit: the more active the station the more potential there is for economic development in the corridor. With a brand new station, no parking fees, increased ridership, more rail connecting to the keystone corridor, a well leveraged station is a recipe to fill the offices at the Masonic Village and put a permanent tenant in the old café/donut shop on the corner.
    2. Environmental benefit: the station reduces the amount of time that cars are on the road in the borough. This not only reduces CO2 from the cars themselves who might otherwise be using the regions roadways more actively it reduces the CO2 from those who continue to choose to drive since they will idle less. Finally, train riders reduce traffic congestion. The economics benefits here are more difficult to calculate but they are a factor in addition to normative environmental considerations.
    3. Roadway maintenance: while by definition, train riders create costs associated with maintenance at the station we reduce costs to the borough for maintenance of borough roads and sidewalks. This is not only an issue of economics but also fairness. If train riders pay a fee for service, then toll our borough roads so that those who use our roadways can pay for the maintenance costs that the borough incurs from them.

  3. The borough should consider generating revenue to pay for the upkeep of the station through ad revenue. Clearly, this is a more active station but naming rights, other advertisements in the lot could offset maintenance costs at the station:

    SEPTA’s board approved a five-year, $5 million agreement on Thursday to rename the Pattison Avenue subway station the AT&T station.

    SEPTA will receive $3 million under the deal with AT&T to rename the station, located on the south end of the Broad Street line. The change is tentatively scheduled to occur in August. Titan Outdoor, which handles SEPTA’s advertising, will receive $2 million under the agreement, which includes the costs of making all of the changes.

  4. SEPTA charges $1.00 per day to park at their rail stations- you put coins in a slot. Unfortunately, their system makes it inconvenient to park overnight or for extended periods- you have to make special arrangements. I suggest $1.00 per day (maybe less for commuters) but have an easy way to pay for extended parking. (I only use the station occasionally, to park for a few days at a time when I take the train to the Philly airport for a business trip.) -Bob

  5. So what happened in Elizabethtown that the parking is still free? Why was a fee not assessed? The same discussions are going on in Mount Joy.


    Brian Youngerman

  6. We decided for the time being not to assess a fee. I can't say that we'll always keep parking free or that we're going to charge anything in the future. It's a decision for all of Borough Council, and we haven't discussed a fee for some time now.

  7. I ride the train to Harrisburg daily. I moved to E-town partially because of the train. I stop at shops downtown on my way home. I wouldn't mind paying a small fee, especially if it keeps the lot and station nice.

    I'd actually prefer if I had an assigned spot that I knew I'd have everyday.


Because of ongoing spam passed off as comments, I have instituted a policy of moderating all comments. I will receive an e-mail when you comment and will review to ensure they are appropriate. For the record, this is not an effort to censor anyone except spammers hawking offensive websites and inappropriate and unrelated content. I pledge to post all comments, regardless of whether they are critical of me and my writing or not.