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Parking fees peeve commuters

September 12, 1997

By DON AINES

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - For 19 years Marilyn Turner has parked for free and taken the train into Washington, D.C. Now she will have to pay, and she and more than a dozen other commuters are upset.

"Twenty dollars a month is a higher fee than any other parking lot in the city," the Smithsonian employee said prior to the Martinsburg City Council adopting the Martinsburg Parking Authority's recommendations for the lots at the city-owned train station.

As of Oct. 1, the regulations provide for 51 parking spaces to be rented to commuters on a first-come, first-serve basis. Ten more will be for metered parking at 25 cents an hour and the other 10 will be for businesses that locate there.

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"We feel we are being singled out. You're discriminating against us," Turner told the council. She noted other leased parking spots in the city are $12 for 30 weekdays and long-term metered parking is 25 cents for 10 hours.

"I'm sorry you voted that way because I think you'll be hearing from the Department of Justice," she said after the unanimous vote.

She said the new regulations make Martinsburg the only stop on any of the three MARC lines that charges for parking.

Mayor Earnest Sparks told her the city received a $1.5 million grant to refurbish the old hotel and station and had to put up $300,000 in matching funds. "We told the citizens of Martinsburg at that time that we would refund that money from the rental of the building and the parking at the building."

In exchange, he told the commuters, the city is providing snow removal on the lots, lighting and security. The parking had been free because MARC had been leasing the other parking lot adjacent to the station.

Council Richard Yauger added that the fee comes out to $1 a day, much less than they would pay for a parking space closer to Washington.

"You've put $2 million into a white elephant. I suggest you now go down to the creek and put in a riverboat stop," said Roy Angus, another commuter. After leaving the meeting he said there are no businesses in the station other than a part-time CSX employee selling MARC tickets.

Patti Rice is not a commuter, but said she occasionally rides Amtrak from the station. Amtrak tickets, though, cannot be purchased there. Amtrak has no agent there, so she has to make reservations.

As the horn for the last train pulling into the station sounded a few blocks away, commuter Janet White noted she spends $205 a month on MARC tickets and about $44 more for the subway. With another $20 a month for parking, she said it will cost her more than $3,200 a year to commute.

"I just don't feel it's the responsibility of the citizens of Martinsburg to subsidize their parking," Sparks said after the meeting.

Judy Koepsell was one of several commuters who noted outside the municipal building that she brings her paycheck back to Martinsburg and spends it here.

"I think they could have at least pretended they were sympathetic," Rice remarked after the vote.

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