Nearly half the commuters who drive to the downtown Petaluma SMART station would prefer using a future east side station when it is built, according to a survey of SMART riders. The survey conducted by the Petaluma Downtown Association, provided insight into parking habits around the commuter rail station. It also confirmed what everyone already knows: People don’t like to pay for parking.
“This gives us an idea of parking and how people feel about it,” said Marie McCusker, executive director of the downtown association. “The most interesting outcome is that half the respondents would switch to the Corona Road station once it’s open.”
SMART, which launched train service in August from Santa Rosa to San Rafael, has long promised to build a second Petaluma station. While the rail agency built a 50-space dirt lot at the downtown station, its plans call for a 150-space parking lot at a future station at Corona Road and McDowell Boulevard. A deal with a developer for that site faces challenges, including potential soil contamination on the property.
Of the 60 respondents who returned the survey in December, 29 said they would drive to the east side station while 30 said they would continue using the downtown station once the new station is built. Soon after SMART launched, residents and business owners near the downtown station complained that free street parking became increasingly scarce. The SMART lot costs $2 per day.
The survey asked, if the city limited street parking near the station to three hours, would commuters pay the $2 to park in the paid lot, drive farther for free unlimited street parking or stop riding SMART. Twenty four said they would drive farther for free parking while 11 said they would pay the $2 to park and five said they would stop riding.
“The interesting thing to me is that there is something in the DNA of this town that people hate to pay for parking,” said Mike Healy, a Petaluma city councilman. “We tried paid parking in the Keller garage, and that was a big belly flop.”
The survey was passed out to riders on the platform and placed under windshields of cars in the SMART parking lot. Twenty five respondents said they normally park in the paid lot, while 31 said they typically park on the street for free. Three said they walk to the station, three rode a bike and two each responded that they took the bus or got dropped off.
Most of the respondents said that they rode the train five days a week, confirming that Petaluma was a popular station for daily commuters.
“As a new agency, we are always open to feedback and suggestions,” Jeanne Belding, a SMART spokeswoman, said in an email. “The Petaluma station is one of our most popular stations, and we continue to look for ways to enhance the experience of our passengers within what our resources allow.”
(Contact Matt Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.)