With just two minutes to catch his train, Bob Peel of Palo Alto slams the door of his Mercedes and races for the platform. As Caltrain’s doors close behind him he realizes he forgot to put his monthly parking pass on his dashboard. Again.
This is nothing new for Peel. What’s changed is that recently he’s been getting caught. In the past six months, Peel has been given three $39 parking tickets.
“I think they’re finally enforcing it,” he said.
Whatever the reason, this year Caltrain has issued more than twice the parking tickets it gave out last year.
According to the latest data available, Caltrain gave out 2,144 citations between January and May of this year, compared to just 988 citations between January and May of last year.
While Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn was not able to explain the increase, she said time limits at lots have not changed and that parking enforcers do not operate on quotas.
Raj Patel, a taxi driver who spends considerable time looking for fares at Caltrain’s Palo Alto station, said he sees parking enforcers in electric vehicles come by every day, and on busy days every hour. “They’re doing a very good job,” Patel said.
One reason for the surge may be increased parking lot use. People going to downtown areas near busy stations such as Palo Alto may prefer to pay Caltrain’s $4 daily parking fee than move their car around town every two hours, as many downtown parking signs require.
Confusion also may be a factor. Caltrain scrapped its parking permit machines in 2009 and merged them with the ticket vending machines on train platforms. Since the newer machines accept a wider variety of payment methods, Caltrain billed the switch as a convenience. But the absence of the old machines has confused some riders.
“Twice I came to take the train and I couldn’t figure out where to pay,” said Shy Rachman of Palo Alto.
The new system — in which riders no longer display a permit on their dash — may also invite more sneaks. At 4 p.m. Tuesday, Yanessa Lasley pulled into a Palo Alto parking spot and swaggered toward the platform. No, she hadn’t paid for parking, and no, she didn’t plan to.
“I’m assuming someone else already paid for my spot this morning,” Lasley said. “It should be fine, going from what other people have told me.”
Such hearsay helps pay Caltrain’s bills.
Since many drivers use monthly passes, they never record their parking space number in the ticket machine. Thus, when they leave, their spots are not paid for, resulting in parking tickets.
Yet some complain that they have been inappropriately ticketed.
“I seen plenty of pissed-off people who got a ticket even though they bought their parking,” said Edgar Mars of Oakland, who regularly parks in Caltrain’s lots and has gotten three citations in recent years, all of which he said were undeserved. When he showed Caltrain proof that he had prepaid for his parking with a monthly pass, the tickets were voided. But it was a battle, he said.
“It’s easier to pay the ticket than to fight it,” Mars said. “You have to get off work and it takes you all day to go to San Carlos.”