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September 10, 2013

Listen to Commuters!

Commuters don’t like surprises.  They plan their daily travels down to the second, and “surprises” take them aback.  Changes in a timetable, fare increases… they all seem inevitable, but what angers commuters is when they happen without input and without warning.
So imagine the impending anger when Darien and Noroton Heights commuters find that their parking rates will be raised and their payment methods changed starting in October. 
The scratch-off vouchers will be gone, replaced by pay stations
and on-line payment apps.  Annual permit will be penalized if they are tardy in renewal.
These are plans the Board of Selectmen have been discussing for months, but few commuters have any idea what’s coming.
Last Monday night the Board held a perfunctory “public hearing” on the plan they’d already decided to approve with a vote that same evening.  There’s nothing like the political theater of asking constituents’ opinions on a plan you’ve not explained and you’re all set to enact as an ordinance.
The town didn’t post notices at either station about the hearings.  They didn’t send out e-mails to permit holders or get a story in the Darien Times.  It was all legal, but slipped onto an agenda in hopes nobody would notice.
But I noticed.  And because I believe passionately in open government, I e-mail commuters, printed flyers and posted signs at the stations… and four commuters came to the hearing, testifying passionately about the price increase and sharing numerous complaints about station parking.
To her credit, First Selectman Jayme Stevenson admitted there had been inadequate communication about the plan and offered to extend the public hearing into a special meeting on Monday September 16th, 7:30 pm at Town Hall.
To my reckoning, this is an unprecedented move.  Never before has the Board of Selectmen gone out of its way to ask commuters… their customers and constituents… for their opinions and feedback on such a vital town service.
We cannot miss this opportunity.
Their plan calls for a 66% price jump in day parking (totaling an additional $500 per year) and “market rate” repricing for annual permits.  How much money will be raised?  How will it be spent?  What about the 8-year waiting list for annual permits?  Security cameras?  Better lighting?
Let’s fill the room with commuters on Monday.  Tell your friends.  Bring your ideas. If you can’t attend, e-mail me your comments.
Let’s show our elected officials that we do care.  Commuting is a big part of our lives.  This is our town and commuters can and should be heard on these plans!

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