One silver lining in the pandemic for many in Wellesley has been a respite from taking the crowded, inconsistent and expensive commuter rail into Boston or toward Worcester. But for the town itself, abandonment of the train by residents has been a financial gut punch.
Wellesley Executive Director Meghan Jop this week said during the Board of Selectmen meeting that the town pre-COVID was pocketing $60K or $70K a month from parking fees (mostly from the commuter rail lots, including annual passes). But with so many locals working from home, or driving to work if they are going in to the office or a work location, the town’s not getting much of those funds. Plus, it’s offering free two-hour parking at meters to boost local retailers.
Jop described the town’s traffic and parking account as self sustaining. The funds pay for everything from traffic engineers to line painting to parking attendants.
“Worse case is likely a $900,000 deficiency in funding, best case would be about a $500,000 shortfall,” said Jop, alerting the board that free cash could come into play to cover expenses.
And in fact, the town might want to consider various capital projects, like parking lot paving and LED lighting installation, while hardly anyone is using the lots. Wellesley does have enough funds for this year’s operation, and boasts a fund balance that will probably be around $400K.
I swung by the Wellesley Square lot a couple of mornings this week, thankful for not having to take the train since March and observing the scene. Both mornings only four cars were in the Tailby lot between 7:30am and 8:30am. Only one person got on the 8:19am inbound train, and just a handful got off the outbound trains that came through.
Commuter rail trains overall (not just the line that runs through Wellesley Square, Wellesley Hills and Wellesley Farms) are running at about 8% to 10% capacity, with a rosy MBTA projection that that could be up to around 60% by next summer, reported Board of Selectmen member Colette Aufranc, who recently attended an MBTA advisory meeting.
In the meantime, looking good for more drive-in movies in the lots.