Wyandanch rail riders are grumbling over what they say will be a longer and costlier commute when parking plans change at the hamlet's Long Island Rail Road station, the center of the massive Wyandanch Rising downtown revitalization project.
When the changes go into effect Sept. 1, the approximately 2,000 parking spots offered now will be reduced to 1,574, still about 600 more than existed before Wyandanch Rising broke ground.
A decision last month by Babylon Town officials reserving most outdoor spots, traditionally open to all, for town residents will take effect that day; the new $30 million LIRR-owned parking garage will start charging a fee; and one of the lots now favored by commuters will close.
"It's just not fair," said Patrick Naughton, 52, an engineer from Babylon whose Manhattan commute has taken him to the Wyandanch station at 12-hour intervals for the past 15 years.
He believes the changes will increase competition for free spots among nonresidents and says they have already sown confusion.
The Wyandanch station serves more than 4,000 customers a day, many of them from Dix Hills, Deer Park, Wheatley Heights and Melville.
For longtime riders whose commutes have been honed to the minute, every change is a potential disruption. Lot changes mean they will likely have to cross Long Island Avenue or Straight Path to get to the train.
The 920-spot garage, where a management company hired by the LIRR will charge $70 monthly or $5 daily but not guarantee a spot, is a special source of discontent to some.
"How can anybody who goes into the city afford $70 a month on top of our train tickets?" said Mark Strickler, 60, a printer from Dix Hills who has commuted from Wyandanch for 30 years and buys a $338 monthly pass.
Town and LIRR officials say the parking garage is needed to ease a shortage already so severe that most lots at Wyandanch and nearby stations fill by 8 a.m. on weekdays. It will also grow capacity ahead of future projects like the LIRR's East Side Access -- which will offer a direct route to Manhattan's Grand Central Terminal -- that are likely to increase the number of rail riders.
The garage will cost $800,000 a year to maintain, LIRR spokesman Sal Arena wrote in an email, but will offer 24-hour staffing, vehicle assistance services and an array of security features. Allpro Parking, the Buffalo-based garage management company, has indicated it can accommodate overflow garage parking through a "valet-parking type service," he added.
Town and railroad officials say they've worked hard to keep riders apprised of recent changes, but Babylon officials didn't decide on the rule reserving most of the 654 outdoor spots for town residents until late July and the LIRR website doesn't mention the change.
Kevin Bonner, a Babylon town spokesman, said, "Since Babylon Town resources are used to maintain the parking lots, we want to ensure that Babylon Town taxpayers have access."
Elinor Vavoules, 58, who works at the Half Hollow Hills Community Library and lives in Dix Hills, said she knew free parking was too good to last. "Ah, I knew they were going to do this," she said. "I am resigned to it. I'm not happy about it."