FAIRFIELD — It’s a typical morning at the Fairfield Transportation Center and the competition is on for that most prized of possessions — a parking space.
The center has 640 spaces, where people can leave their vehicles and catch van pools or the express buses that go to BART stations. But by 6:45 a.m. on a recent day, both the parking lot and three-story parking structure were full.
Just business as usual. City officials estimate the daily overflow at the center is 150 to 200 drivers.
The Fairfield Transportation Center is such a success that it fails to provide room for many mass transit enthusiasts. Those enthusiasts are looking to the city for a quick fix that city officials say they can’t yet offer.
Some commuters on this recent day, such as Ryan Bruns, parked in a nearby shopping center parking lot. As he knew, that move comes with the risk of being towed.
“Got to get to work,” Bruns said.
Others have gotten burned by defying the “customer parking only” signs. Jenny Mendez last year thought she was parking in a space for the vacant, former Smart & Final building. Instead, she had chosen one reserved for the adjacent business and she returned at the end of the day to find her vehicle had been towed. She paid $300 to get it back.
Now she gets dropped off at the Transportation Center. Otherwise, she’d have to go to the center long before her bus departs, just to get a parking space.
“I know there’s no way I would find a parking space now,” she said as she waited for the bus at 7:15 a.m.
Not unless she got lucky. About 10 cars lined up outside the parking structure at 7:30 a.m. on a recent day, the same time a van carrying people who work the night shift at United Airlines arrived. That freed up a few spaces.
Several Transportation Center users speak of the events of Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day. That’s when a few dozen vehicles – the precise number varies with the teller – were towed from the front of the vacant Smart & Final store.
Teri Green isn’t taking a chance on parking in a lot for neighboring commercial stores, not any more. She did so Sept. 11, 2012. Her vehicle was towed and she paid $275 to get it back.
She’s taken to catching the BART express bus in Suisun City, though it adds time to her commute to Oakland. This allows her to use the Suisun City park-and-ride lot.
“There is parking in Suisun,” Green said. “I don’t think many people know that yet.”
She might have to return to driving to work, Green said. Like many other commuters, she wants Fairfield to take action and solve the Fairfield Transportation Center parking problems.
“I’m not talking about the long-term solution,” Green said. “I’m talking about the immediate problem.”
Fairfield has a long-term solution in mind. It wants to add 1,000 spaces to the Transportation Center by building another parking structure. But the $16 million first phase could be years away.
The city also has a midterm solution. The City Council in July 2011 approved spending $1 million to buy 1.84 acres along Oliver Road to become a 180-space park-and-ride lot. The idea is that van poolers could use the lot, freeing space at the Transportation Center about a third-of-a-mile away for bus riders.
In July 2011, Fairfield officials said the Oliver Road lot could open in fall 2012. That didn’t happen.
Pavement on part of the Oliver Road property is in worse condition than originally thought and will have to be torn out and replaced, City Assistant Public Works Director for Transportation Wayne Lewis said. Plus, the city must meet its own codes for landscaping, just as a business would, he said.
At this point, he’s hoping the Oliver Road lot can open late this year or early next year.
He’s trying to work with businesses near to the Transportation Center to see if he can reach an agreement for some number of commuters to park in their lots, Lewis said. But businesses are concerned about possible liability and whether they’ll have the spaces for customers when needed, he said.
The city has looked at having the BART express buses stop at the Red Top Road park-and-ride lot, Lewis said. But that adds time to the trip and that park-and-ride lot is almost full, he said.
Like Green, he noted the Suisun City park-and-ride lot has extra spaces and that the Route 90 bus to the El Cerrito Del Norte BART station stops there.
The Fairfield Transportation Center has become the success that city officials hoped for when it opened in 2000, replacing a smaller park-and-ride lot. Now the city’s problem is dealing with that success.
“We want to encourage people to use van pools and ride the bus,” Lewis said. “I’m taking the problem very seriously. I don’t have an immediate solution.”
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.