Just in time for the seasonal Polar Express, the Capital District Transportation Authority will start charging for special event parking at the Saratoga Springs Train Station — but Santa’s sponsors are planning a free alternative.
The new $5 per vehicle fee takes effect today, the same day the Saratoga & North Creek Railway’s Christmas-themed Polar Express starts its seven-week run.
Railway officials said Thursday they’ll be offering customers free alternative parking at the nearby Saratoga Springs High School.
“Complimentary shuttle service will provide round-trip transportation for passengers from Saratoga Springs High School to the Saratoga Springs Train Station beginning at 4:30 p.m. each day of the train’s operation,” said Steve Torrico, the Saratoga & North Creek Railway general manager. “The Saratoga & North Creek Railway regrets any inconvenience to our valued passengers. We look forward to another magical holiday season aboard the Polar Express.”
Facebook postings indicated that some Polar Express customers are upset about the unanticipated fee being imposed by CDTA, which owns the station off West Avenue.
CDTA officials couldn’t be reached for comment after the railway’s announcement late Thursday of the alternative arrangement.
The Polar Express was enormously popular in its 2011 debut season. Nearly 36,000 people rode the train last year, paying between $20 and $70 per person for tickets, and the railway anticipates carrying 1,600 riders per night to see Santa Claus this year. The trip lasts about an hour.
But CDTA officials said it puts pressure on the limited parking at the station. The revenue from the parking fee will help pay for additional security and other improvements, they said.
The parking fee system will be managed by Maiden Lane Parking of Albany, which also manages parking at the CDTA-owned Rensselaer Amtrak station, where there is a long-standing charge for long-term parking.
The $5 per vehicle fee will be charged at a parking booth at the entrance to the lot. Cash, credit and debit cards will be accepted.
The Saratoga & North Creek Railway, a subsidiary of Iowa Pacific Holdings of Chicago, started operating tour trains from the station in 2011.
CDTA said the railroad’s special events like the Polar Express — which will run in the evenings through Jan. 6 — and upcoming winter trips to North Country ski resorts have been creating greater demand for the available parking, which is limited.
The Saratoga station also serves Amtrak customers traveling to New York City, Vermont and Canada and is a stop for Greyhound and Adirondack Trailways buses.
Amtrak, Adirondack Trailways and Greyhound customers taking trains from the station will continue to have free parking, CDTA officials said.