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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

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The scoot commute: Scooters gain popularity as rides to RR stations

Published 6:59 am, Friday, July 4, 2014

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  • Scooters are lined up in the Saugatuck train station in Westport. Most scooter commuters cite the lower cost of operating scooters for their growing popularity. Photo: Staff Photo/Gretchen Webster / Fairfield Citizen
    Scooters are lined up in the Saugatuck train station in Westport. Most scooter commuters cite the lower cost of operating scooters for their growing popularity. Photo: Staff Photo/Gretchen Webster

 

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There's more than one way to get to local train stations. You can walk, you can drive a car or, as more and more people seem to be doing these days, you can ride a motor scooter.

"I park it for free," said Fairfielder Kristen Empie as she strapped on her helmet after getting off the 6:46 p.m. train from Manhattan on a recent evening. She had parked her scooter that morning in a special parking area set aside for scooters on the eastbound side of Fairfield's downtown train station.

Getting herself a scooter to help her get to her advertising job in Manhattan was purely a financial decision, the commuter said. "One gallon goes 150 miles, there's no (personal property) taxes, no registration and getting a parking permit for a car takes five years."

The wait list for a parking permit at the Fairfield Center and Southport stations is currently about three years.

And in Westport, the wait list for a railroad parking slot does stretch to about five years.

There is no wait list at the Fairfield Metro station, according to the Fusco Management Co., which operates the parking lot for the state.

Hugo Souza was revving up his motor scooter at Westport's Saugatuck station for the ride home on a recent evening. "What could be better?" he said. "I can go for about two weeks on one gallon," and he doesn't have to pay for a parking permit.

Souza, a summertime resident of Westport, said he used to ride a bike to the depot, but a scooter is faster. "And it isn't so sweaty in the summer."

Fairfield commuter Zach Chapman gave another reason for scooter commuting: "It's better for the environment."

Westport Police Lt. Ryan Paulsson said that motor scooter drivers have to be licensed drivers, and abide by the same laws as any motor vehicle operator in the state of Connecticut. Motor scooters cannot be driven on sidewalks, for example, he said.

The only difference is that a motor scooter with an engine of less than 50 cubic centimeters does not have to be registered with the state Department of Motor Vehicles. Larger scooters of more than 50 cc's have to be registered, as do motorcycles, Paulsson said.

Railroad parking for scooters at Westport's Saugatuck train station is in a designated spot in the eastbound lot. Scooters and motorcycles share the same space and the small lot often seems to have more motorcycles parked there than scooters.

In Fairfield, there is a six-scooter area reserved for scooters only, adjacent to the eastbound station, and scooter commuters park their vehicles in various other places around the train station, including under the Unquowa Road bridge. On one recent morning, there were about 20 scooters parked at three different sites around the downtown depot's property.

The Fairfield Parking Authority has been adding more scooter racks over the past five years, according to Cynthia Placko, manager of the Fairfield Parking Authority.

"Before, people were attaching them to everything," she said. Once, a scooter owner had chained his scooter to a live wire powering the train station lights. "We had to remove that scooter," Placko said.

She confirmed that there is no parking charge for scooters or for motorcycles at the Fairfield Center and Southport stations. Scooter racks are located in five different places around the Fairfield Center station. There are also racks for motorcycles, she said.

At the Fairfield Metro station, there is a scooter rack on the New York side of the tracks where bicycles can also park. There is no parking charge for either scooters or bikes.

"The demand has been there over the last three or four years. They're not paying for parking and they're spending much less on gas," Placko said.