Connecticut To Philadelphia

Your comment is “What does Philadelphia have to do with Connecticut?” Well, I’ve been doing a lot of traveling from Connecticut to Philadelphia so I decided it belonged in this column. “Metroliner Service” is sparse from New Haven to Philadelphia. Leave New Haven at 6:10 am and leave 30th Street at 5:36 pm. However; the times are shorter (at least between Philadelphia and Penn Station); the seats are more comfortable; club car service is available; and rush hour trains are less crowded. While “Metroliner Service” between New York and Philadelphia (then to Washington) is well-publicized and very popular, the New York-New Haven leg is not well patronized. The morning train is almost empty into New York then completely fills up. In the evening, the train empties out at Penn Station (one night three passengers got off in New Haven).

new-york-penn-station

If you don’t opt for “Metroliner Service”, regular service is available at least every two hours. Several of these trains run Boston to south of Washington, contain sleeping cars, and may be somewhat slower. Most trains connect with New Haven-Springfield service. Another option is to use Metro-North from New Haven to New York, take a subway from Grand Central to Penn Station, and board AMTRAK there.

AMTRAK between New Haven and New York runs alongside Metro-North to New Rochelle. Stops are made at Bridgeport, Stamford, and either Rye or New Rochelle. There is no competition with Metro-North pricewise – riders must buy at least a Newark ticket. Even though rush hour trains run on the left hand tracks to avoid numerous Metro-North trains, there still seems to be a lot of contention for free tracks. At New Rochelle, AMTRAK diverges and follows the “Hell Gate Route” while Metro-North links up to the old New York Central to enter New York. The AMTRAK line from New Rochelle to New York is a former New Haven Railroad route. It is overhead electric and at least two tracks of the former four are still in service. Unlike Metro-North territory, the overhead electric supports which span the tracks are still unpainted from New Haven days. At some points, it looks like an army of Boy Scouts should be called in to clear the brush away. After crossing the Hell Gate Bridge with its magnificent view of the New York skyline, the route meets up with the Long Island near Sunnyside Yard and enters the East River tunnels.

In Philadelphia, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) runs numerous electric lines through the city. 30th Street Station is two levels. The underground level is basically AMTRAK (including the new Atlantic City service). The upper level is SEPTA which then runs to two “downtown” stations: Penn Center Suburban Station at 16th Street and JFK Boulevard (in the heart of Philadelphia’s business district, near City Hall); and Market East Station at 10th-12th Streets and Market Street (in the Gallery Shopping Mall and an easy walk to the historic area).

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The nation’s fourth-largest metropolitan area boasts its third-largest commuter rail network (after New York and Chicago). SEPTA is an amalgam of the suburban services of the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Reading Company. Almost 800 trains running over 400 route miles between 200 stations carry well over 120,000 daily riders. Meanwhile, across the Delaware River in New Jersey, NJDOT operates the remnant of the old Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines and a high-speed line exists into Philadelphia.

Growing business on Philadelphia suburban routes led both the Pennsylvania and the Reading to electrify their suburban services during the first third of the century. The Pennsylvania wired some existing P54 suburban coaches to create what eventually would be a fleet of over 500 MP54 MU cars. Reading obtained some MU cars from Bethlehem Steel. The system held together after World War II and public subsidy came early enough to maintain the system through the 1960’s. SEPTA was formed in 1964 and much equipment modernization occurred in the 1970’s (“Silverliners”). When CONRAIL was formed in 1976, it took over operation of both Penn Central (Pennsylvania RR) and Reading suburban operations. SEPTA remained only a commuter rail funding operation (as well as local transit operator) until CONRAIL backed out of the commuter operating business in 1982. Recent years have seen some service cutbacks. For instance, the former Reading line to Reading and Pottsville only has service to Pottstown and the line to Bethlehem stops at Lansdale. Reading’s line to Newark (with old Jersey Central) now goes only to West Trenton.

The separate identities of the Pennsylvania and Reading districts have disappeared because of the Center City Commuter Connection. This tunnel brings MU trains off the ex-PRR line at Penn Center to the former Reading at a point north of Reading Terminal. The old terminal no longer serves trains, but its fresh food market downstairs is still very active and its headhouse is being renovated as office space.

Before 1952, GG1 electric and K4 Pacific steam pulled their passenger trains above the bustling traffic of Market Street. This was Broad Street Terminal with its 16 stub-end terminal tracks flanked by old-fashioned platforms. At its head, a 10-story brick-and-granite building of Victorian vintage which once was the Pennsylvania Railroad’s corporate headquarters.

I have recently made some good use of the SEPTA trains. Service to the International Airport runs every half hour and costs $4.50 from 30th Street. At the airport, trains make three individual stops at terminals B, C/D and E. A shuttle bus connects to the Overseas Terminal.

Another SEPTA route I have taken is the “Paoli Local”. Officially known as route R5, it really goes beyond Paoli to Downington. It is the first leg of the Philadelphia-Harrisburg service. Paoli is a transfer point between SEPTA and AMTRAK. My trip to Strafford takes under one half hour and costs $2.75.

AMTRAK has been using some converted “Metroliner” cab cars to form “push-pull” sets with E60 electrics in Philadelphia-Harrisburg “Keystone Service”. This popular route was electrified in 1938 and is 104 miles long. Approximately twelve trains run each way daily. Service used to originate at Suburban Station, but was cut back to 30th Street recently. The original “Metroliner” cars were built in 1967 to be America’s first high speed cars. They originally ran at 125 m.p.h. although they were designed for 160 m.p.h. In Harrisburg service they were renamed “Capitol Liners” and didn’t have to run as fast. Even so, they have high maintenance costs and a high failure rate. This caused removal of their traction motors and downgrade to coach service.

City streetcar routes are handled by a variety of equipment. Kawasaki-built light rail vehicles have been quite successful. The cars, introduced in 1980, have been well received by the public and operators. Although Philadelphia experimented with Boeing Vertols in the 1970’s, most of the old cars were from the 1930’s. PCC cars were supplemented by purchases from Kansas City and Birmingham. SEPTA has over 300 trolleys on 200 route miles of track. Some of this is out of service – for how long or if forever is uncertain. It also has downtown subways and an interurban.

 

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TrafficJam

 CAR CULTURE

A real story for this era is how General Motors, Ford and Chrysler reshaped American ground transportation to serve their corporate wants instead of social needs.

As a result of their monopolistic structure, the Big Three automakers acted in a way detrimental to public interest. GM had control of auto, truck, bus and locomotive production. We are seeing a collapse of a society based on the automobile. We have consumed too much oil, polluted the atmosphere, and turned our cities into highways and parking lots. We see a government bias in favor of highways, failure to produce transport vehicles consistent with energy/environmental restraints, and a consumer dependence on the auto.

GM had the power and economic incentive to suppress rail and bus transportation: one bus can eliminate 35 automobiles; one rail transit vehicle can supplant 50 passenger cars; one train can displace 1000 cars or a fleet of 150 cargo-laden trucks.

GM had a role in the destruction of more than 100 electric surface rail systems in 45 cities including New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, St. Louis, Oakland, Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. In southern California, GM and other highway interests acquired local transit companies and replaced them with busses. The noisy, foul-smelling busses turned people away from mass transit and therefore sold millions of automobiles.

General Motors received a criminal conviction for its part in monopolizing street transportation. In spite of this, GM continued to acquire and dieselize electric transit properties into 1955. 40,000 streetcars were in service in 1936 when National City Lines was organized by GM. By 1955, only 5,000 remained. While substituting buses for electric street railways helped GM stockholders, it deprived the riding public of a pollution free and energy efficient mode of transportation.

Substitution of buses for streetcar lines contributed indirectly to the abandonment of electric railway freight service. Merchants used to rely on this service to deliver goods and interchange with railroads. For instance, Pacific Electric was once the third largest freight railroad in California. It just proved uneconomical to maintain city track for freight-only. General Motors even benefited from this demise. They also sold trucks! They even used to have an interest in Associated Transport and Consolidated Freightways.

GM used its leverage as the largest freight shipper to coerce railroads to scrap their equipment, including pollution-free electrics, in favor of less durable, less efficient GM diesels. New Haven Railroad showed a profit during 50 years of electrification but started heavy losses after it dieselized its operations.

General Motors diversification into bus transportation: (1) shifted passengers from rail to bus and eventually into automobiles; and (2) shifted freight from rail to truck. An additional factor was GM’s integration into locomotive production. In 1930, they acquired Winton Engine and Electro-Motive. Unfortunately, GM could make 25 to 30 times more gross revenue selling cars and trucks than it could diesel locomotives.

In 1956 the government sued General Motors for monopolization of the bus industry and requested divestiture of its bus production facilities. The case was a failure for the government because GM had combined bus and truck production within the same facilities. A few years later the Justice Department started and then abandoned an antitrust case against GM Locomotive.

Many of the anti-competitive forces of the automobile industry could be diffused by a remedy suggested several years ago by Bradford C. Snell of the International Conference on Appropriate Transportation. First, deconcentration of the motor vehicle industry would reduce the automakers ability to pass on the cost of their anti-rail lobbying to consumers. Second, reorganization of GM’s bus and rail divisions into independent corporations would enable them to operate free from the conflict of interest they currently have. Finally, the facilitation of entry by a number of new bus and rail enterprises would provide competitive capability to build a modern passenger and freight transport system.

It has been the policy of Congress in the past to maintain competition by prohibiting common control of competing modes of transport. The Air Mail Act of 1934 forced GM to sell its interests in several airlines. GM also had interests in several aircraft manufacturers. At that time, GM chairman Sloan implied to Congress that his company had entered the aviation industry to protect its interests in the promotion of automobiles.

At one time there were more than 150 competing manufacturers of bus and rail vehicles. The technological development of these vehicles stopped in the 1930’s.

In Europe and Japan, where there is a limited amount of common auto/rail/bus ownership, there are much more balanced transportation systems.

GM owned Hertz from 1925 to 1953. Because it was perceived to lessen sales of cars, GM limited its growth. Its success after disposition by GM shows what could happen to bus and rail operations.

General Motors got into bus production in 1925 by acquiring Yellow Coach. In 1926 they assisted in the formation of the Greyhound Corporation. 1932 saw GM going into the business of converting interurban electric railways as well as electric streetcar systems to bus operations. Due to the high cost of operation and slow speed on congested streets, buses ultimately contributed to the collapse of hundreds of transit systems.

Several railroads converted substantial portions of their commuter rail service with buses: Pennsylvania Greyhound Lines (Pennsylvania RR); Central Greyhound Lines (New York Central); Pacific Greyhound Lines (Southern Pacific); New England Greyhound Lines (New York, New Haven & Hartford); Northland Greyhound Lines (Great Northern); and Southwestern Greyhound Lines (St. Louis Southwestern Railroad). The railroads were eventually forced out of ownership by the government. By 1950, Greyhound carried half as many intercity passengers as the railroads. Until 1948, General Motors was the largest stockholder in Greyhound.

General Motors used various devices to convert street car lines to bus. At first, United Cities Motor Transit was directly owned by GM and would buy electric street car companies, convert them to GM motorbus operation, and then resell them. After being censured by the American Transit Association, GM went “undercover” with other organizations, primarily National City Lines, Inc. Other participants in National City Lines were Greyhound, Standard Oil of California and Firestone Tire. By reselling properties after conversion, they were assured that capital was continually reinvested in the motorization of additional systems. The biggest GM “triumph” was California’s Pacific Electric. Within a 75-mile radius of Los Angeles, it carried 80 million people annually. In 1949, GM, Greyhound, Standard Oil and Firestone were found guilty of criminally conspiring to monopolize the sale of buses. General Motors was fined $5,000! The GM treasurer who masterminded the destruction of Pacific Electric was fined $1!

Additional Reading on this subject:  great reference is Revisiting the Great American Streetcar Scandal, by Al Mankoff– Vol. 4, Summer 1999

and The Great American Streetcar Myth

Please read “The Streetcar Conspiracy” by Bradford Snell and “The Conspiracy Revisted Rebutted” by Louis Guilbault. I do not have links and will not tell you about Amazon or Borders and Noble because those people would not even give me the time of day.

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PUBLIC SUPPORT OF PRIVATE RAILROADS

The greatest economic factor in the 19th Century was the railroad. They colonized the West with the 160 acre homesteads. They moved crude oil to market. The biggest factor in steel production was railroads. The meat packing industry was possible because the reefer car was invented.

In spite of early discrimination in favor of canals, there was public support of private railroads in New York State. Mohawk & Hudson stockholders were liable for its debt but the State could purchase it in five years. The New York & Erie got a $6.2 million donation because it could not connect with lines into New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Johnstown contributed $175,600 for the construction of the Fonda, Johnstown & Gloversville. The Town of Queensbury donated $100,000 to the Glens Falls Road (later part of the D&H). When the long-gone road through town was built, Schoharie contributed $20,000 in State bonds which had been given to the town for an excess of volunteers in the Civil War. The common method of financing was for municipalities to purchase common stock. The Town of Theresa bought 600 shares of the Black River & Morristown (later a branch of the NY Central).

Only a few municipalities held railroad bonds. Promoters preferred they buy stock because bonds were easier to market as they could be discounted. The Troy Union Railroad issued $30,000 of common. The city issued $680,000 of 6% bonds. The Rensselaer & Saratoga, Troy & Boston, Schenectady & Troy, and Hudson River line agreed to subscribe for equal amounts of the capital stock and to guarantee payment of the principal and interest on the community’s securities. The city’s investment was secured by a first mortgage on the carrier’s property.

The Town of Delhi paid no principal on bonds it had issued on behalf of the NY & Oswego Midland. Property values in Delhi had risen 100% on rumor of a railroad. In 1893, the Town of Andes had to borrow $120,000 to pay its debt.

The NY & Oswego Midland (later the NY Ontario & Western) zig-zagged 250 miles across the State in search of municipal bonds. It bypassed Syracuse because it didn’t subscribe to bonds. It halted at the Utica line until they subscribed $200,000.

The Albany & Susquehanna had an excellent lobby organization in Albany. Some stocks and bonds were held until the 1940’s. Greene held DL&W and sold its stock in 1946. Colesville held A&S which was traded for D&H. In 1949, Syracuse was still paying on 75 year old bonds. In 1942 the Auburn comptroller discovered 5000 shares of NY & Oswego Midland in his vault.

The D&H in trying to recover from the Depression and its dwindling anthracite trade needed to reduce its debt. It sold its NY Central stock and merged its leased lines. It found that the A&S was owned by many towns as minority shareowners.

The Town of Kirkland sold NYO&W stock in 1944 for $52/share. This stock had originated from the Rome & Clinton which was leased to the O&W.

The Schenectady & Troy was a municipally owned railroad. There was a rivalry between Albany and Troy. When Albany capitalists financed a railroad between Schenectady and Saratoga, Trojans countered by building the Rensselaer & Saratoga. But it needed a western connection so the Schenectady & Troy was proposed. When private interests didn’t come up with the cash, the city of Troy did. It was authorized in 1836 but not started until 1840 by the Whig mayor of Troy, Jonas C. Heartt. There were strikes, late delivery of rails and trouble getting the right of way. It was one of the best roads of the day-utilizing T shape iron rails and having easy grades. It was much better than the Mohawk & Hudson with its inclined planes. Finally, the M&H borrowed from the Utica & Schenectady and from the City of Albany and used the money to remove the inclined planes.

The biggest problem for the S&T was negotiating fair treatment from the Utica & Schenectady (which was closely allied with the Mohawk & Hudson). Erastus Corning was on both U&S and M&H boards. The M&H tied up all the immigrant business. Utica trains started before Troy trains reached Schenectady. Lack of favorable eastern connections was a problem. They built a line to the Western Railway at Greenbush (6 miles).

The Troy railroad tried to circumvent the U&S by building a road along southern bank of the Mohawk to Utica (Mohawk Valley). The tax burden in Troy was high because of its railroad.

In 1851 the Hudson River Railroad leased the Troy & Greenbush. If the Mohawk Valley were to be built, then there would be a true rival to the Mohawk & Hudson and the Utica & Schenectady. When the Hudson River RR failed to press its advantage, Troy tried to get the Harlem to extend to Troy from Chatham. Russell Sage chaired a committee that concluded city should sell its railroad. Also involved was Edwin Morgan, the president of the Hudson River RR. The net result was a sell-out to the New York Central.

The people of Troy had hoped to share in the prosperity of a state-wide rail route and gave liberally to make it a fine system, yet it never paid a dividend and hovered on the brink of bankruptcy. It was finally sold to the interests that were responsible for its failure. The victory of the M&H was because of a far-sighted management, bribery, ruthless competition and an effective alliance between business and politics.

Many municipalities (Hancock on the Erie for example) repudiated their bonds and there were many court cases. In 1875, 20% of municipal indebtedness was for railroad construction. There were many problems because of the Panic of 1873.

Transportation development of the last quarter of the 19th Century was characterized by the combination of many short, disconnected lines to form the great railroad systems of the State.

The 1851 Legislature chartered the Albany & Susquehanna to build 142 miles between Albany & Binghamton. It was designed to be broad gauge to interface with the NY & Erie. The A&S was hard to capitalize because of the barren area it passed through. Communities along the route subscribed $2 million plus there was $750,000 in state aid. The Erie was controlled by Jim Fisk and Jay Gould. They wanted to control the A&S. Stock price of the A&S went from $10/share to $90. Opposition to Fisk and Gould was led by Joseph H. Ramsey. Many municipalities sold their stock to one side or the other. Much of the money behind Ramsey was from the D&H. Lots of legal and illegal tricks were employed on both sides. Violence near Bainbridge led to State seizure. Of the 22 towns, 17 sold at par or better. Cobleskill and Colesville retained their stock.

Utica invested $500,000 in the Utica, Chenango & Susquehanna Valley (100 miles to Greene-completed in 1870) which was leased to the DL&W. In 1871 they also subscribed $200,000 to the Utica, Clinton & Binghamton. It was leased to the NY & Oswego Midland (later O&W). Utica also lost $250,000 on the Black River & Utica.

Albany was a successful lender. They lent $1 million to the Albany & West Stockbridge and to the Albany & Susquehanna. There was a $225,000 loan to the M&H. However, they lost $300,000 to the Albany Northern.

When the NY & Oswego Midland went broke, its obligations were assumed by the D&H and the DL&W.

State or municipal aid to railroads was banned in an 1874 amendment to the New York Constitution. Most railroads in the state were built between 1865 and 1875. Shown below is a list of the railroads in the state in 1852:
· Mohawk & Hudson
· Utica & Schenectady
· Schenectady & Troy
· Schenectady & Saratoga
· Rensselaer & Saratoga
· Troy & Boston (to Eagle Bridge)
· Troy & Greenbush
· Hudson River RR (to Greenbush)
· Albany & West Stockbridge
· NY & Harlem

· Hudson & Berkshire (to Chatham)
· (projected) Catskill & Canajoharie
· (projected) Mohawk Valley (Utica to Schenectady)

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Why did commuter trains loose money?

Take the story of the Jersey Central…
One reason why this commuter railroad failed was the US Post Office taking the transportation of mail off the trains and putting it on trucks in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The revenue from transporting the mail made many of the shorter haul trains profitable to run, even though ridership was low. In many areas this “improvement” resulted in the time it took to deliver the mail doubling or tripling. For example, if you had a PO Box in Madison and mailed a letter in the morning from Stirling on the Gladstone Branch RPO trains, it would be in your PO Box generally within 3 – 4 hours! Now it takes 2 – 4 days.

Another reason was the high cost to provide commuter service and its capital equipment: locomotives, passenger cars, passenger stations, maintenance facilities, etc. They were only used a few hours in the morning and again in the evening, the rest of the day and night (and on weekends) they sat idle. Not a good way to get a return on your investment.

Finally, the state government required the CNJ and other railroads to operate money loosing passenger trains, but only after 1965 did they offer any financial assistance to pay for a portion of the deficit (not the whole deficit). It was the old “state mandate but state no pay” game!

Full reimbursement for commuter losses required to be operated by the state was non existant. In the CNJ’s case the state refused to even give them the same more favorable subsidy arrangement they gave the PRR and E-L. What the CNJ needed to eliminate their losses and remain in business, which the state refused, the state promptly gave to Conrail from day one when Conrail took over in 1976.

If the state would have given the CNJ that same treatment the CNJ would have been able to come out of bankruptcy and operate as a profitable terminal railroad. After all, it had a pretty good hold on the business in the growing Port Newark – Port Elizabeth complex, the Constables Hook industries in Bayonne, the Chemical Coast, and some other big money makers in the freight side of the business. If the CNJ would have received the same financial treatment as NJ Transit now gets from the state government, it would have been rolling in the money and the commuters would have been treated like royality in quality equipment … without all the bureacacy!

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Woes of the New Haven Railroad

Understanding today’s high speed corridors means understanding what happened to the railroads that made up today’s high speed corridors. Best example to look at is the New Haven Railroad.

They fought both airlines and interstate highways with their passenger service.

Eastern Airlines established a shuttle in 1961 between New York and Boston. No reservations were required and standby aircraft were available at peak travel times to ensure that everybody who wanted a seat got one. The airfare was equivalent to what it cost to take the train at that time.

The flight from Boston to New York City took only one hour. The NHRR’s fastest trains took four hours and fifteen minutes.

If you take a look at the numbers of through passengers carried over the New Haven Railroad between Boston and New York City in the years 1952 – 1968 you will note a very gradual downward trend through 1958, which is when the Connecticut Turnpike was completed, and then a huge drop. The numbers of passengers carried is fairly stable during 1959 and 1960 and then there is another huge drop in 1961 that continues steadily downward through the Penn Central takeover. The downward trend post 1961 is the impact of the air shuttle service.

One of the first things that the New Haven tried was the special 2-day round trip fares. This was the special promotion where you paid the regular one-way fare going and then paid only 55 cents for the return ticket. Another thing the NHRR did was to produce advertisements that highlighted the reliability of the railroad, which unlike the air services of that time was not impacted under normal circumstances by bad weather (“The Sure Way Between Boston and New York”, etc.). Nothing the railroad did worked.

The New Haven RR did forsee this problem back in 1954. It was predictable that the airlines would eventually begin to seriously compete for passenger business in the short-haul Boston/New York City corridor. This was the reason for the three experimental high speed lightweight passenger trains “Dan’l Webster”, “John Quincy Adams”, and “Roger Williams”. The intent was to cut down the schedule between Boston and New York City to something that would be, travel time to and from the airports taken into consideration as well, time competitive with airline service.

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Commuter Parking

Nobody can park or drive in New York City so we invented commuter railroads. Now it is getting harder and harder to park at commuter railroad stations!

Before we can get cars off the roads by persuading drivers to become passengers on the trains, we first have to give them a place to park their cars at the train stations. As all commuters know, station parking is a nightmare.

Many stations have a four- or five-year wait for annual permits, which can cost up to $600, and day-parking is expensive, if you can find it. In Connecticut, parking at most rail stations is owned by the Connecticut Department of Transportation but administered by the local towns. That’s why we’ve ended up with different rules and pricing.

Take Rowayton for example. Every year annual permits are handed out on a first-come, first served basis one hectic Saturday morning in May. Nobody is “grandfathered-in”. Everyone literally waits in line, often all night, every year.

This may seem fair, especially to newcomers, but it’s hardly an efficient way to manage a scarce resource.

Another idea — an auction. Spaces would start selling online on a certain date and time with the first permit going to the highest bidder in a 24-hour period. The second permit would go to the next highest bidder, etc. There’d be no preference to those who already have permits nor by town of residency. The scarce supply of spaces would moderate the demand by price.

As it is, most towns oversell their available spaces. In Westport they sell twice as many permits as there are spaces. Why? Because the permits are too cheap and there’s never a time when everybody who has one tries to park on the same day.

People hoard their annual permits, renewing them even if they don’t use them regularly. Many have waited years to get it, and are not likely to give it up, even though they use it only one or two days a week.

Is that fair to the daily commuter who needs that space but hasn’t risen to the top of the waiting list because others won’t let go? Probably not. But unless each town raises parking permit prices and squeezes greed out of the equation, they will keep hanging onto their permit. An auction would change that.

We should let the marketplace define the price of affordability, and that’s what an auction would do most efficiently.

Of course, the other solution is to add more parking spaces. When CDOT tried adding a few spaces in Rowayton a few years back, they were pilloried. When they came to Darien and proposed more parking at Noroton Heights, they were booed out of town.

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