Penn Station garage gleams, but hardly used Motorists still prefer to park behind the complex

But that lot will close

$14 million facility expected to do better without competition

September 25, 1995|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

An article in Monday's editions of The Sun reported incorrectly that the city pays PMS Parking Inc. $327,000 a year to manage the new parking garage at Penn Station. In fact, the company receives $165,000 as a management fee; the balance goes to the company to cover maintenance and other costs.

The Sun regrets the error.

The city's new $14 million parking garage at Pennsylvania Station is clean, well-lighted and spacious. It's also 80 percent empty and costs more to park in than to take a round trip to Washington on the commuter train.

Nearly three weeks after opening, the garage has yet to become the parking place of choice among rail commuters.

A visit at 10 a.m. one day last week showed only 103 of the garage's 550 spaces filled with cars after most of the daily commuters to Washington had come through the 84-year-old train station.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The daily parking rate of $12 is more than the $9.50 round trip rate charged to riders on the Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) train to Washington.

The new garage -- owned by the city -- is not as popular as its main competitor, a parking lot operated by Penn Parking Inc. just north of the train station.

The day 103 cars were parked in the new garage, 160 were parked in the lot behind the station. Parking rates at the lot are the same as in the garage.

But the lot won't be competing with the garage for long. It's closing at the end of the month, because of a long-standing agreement that the lot would close when the garage opened so the two would not compete.

"I believe we'll get a lot of those parkers right into the garage," said Amtrak station manager Kenneth E. Wiedel Jr..

Meanwhile, the owner of the lot -- Lisa Renshaw -- said regular customers have called to complain about the impending closing.

"They don't like the garage. They say it's hard to get into, and they don't feel as secure in a garage as they do in a lot," she said.

The garage, in fact, can be difficult to enter, especially for people rushing to meet trains.

The only entrance is off St. Paul Street, in the station entrance midway between Lanvale Street and Mount Royal Avenue.

Drivers coming south on the Jones Falls Expressway overshoot the train station entrance and must circle the large block in the Mount Royal-Penn Station neighborhood to enter the garage.

Once they near the entrance, they may encounter a backup on the St. Paul Street bridge, which is down to two lanes -- from four -- because of construction.

Once in the garage, drivers find easy maneuvering with wide lanes, three well-lighted levels -- and plenty of parking spaces. Stairs and elevators lead to the sidewalk outside the station doors.

But leaving the garage also can be a problem. The garage exit leads to North Charles Street several yards too far north to enter the Jones Fall Expressway. Drivers, instead, must again circle the block to enter the expressway.

But the garage will be easier to enter and leave in the next few years.

Within two years, Mr. Wiedel said, parkers will be able to enter the garage from St. Paul or North Charles streets after changes to the station entrance and to North Charles Street. And once the bridge at North Charles Street is rebuilt, drivers will be able to enter the expressway directly after leaving the garage.

The parking fees for the garage range from $3 to park for up to an hour and $12 to park all day. In addition to the $14 million price tag to build the garage, the city is paying PMS Parking Inc. $327,000 a year to manage it.

This week, one train rider, Calvin Harrison of Lochearn, said he found the garage prices were "a lot of money, but I'm only parking here because I'm in a hurry."

But Barbara Tucker from Pikesville was delighted to find the new garage as she rushed to catch a train to New York.

"I was so happy it was right by the station," she said, adding, "the rates are good."

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