What Has Two Vehicles and Rides the Rails?

Times Staff Writer

If they made a bumper sticker for people like Kevin Curry, it would say, “My Other Car Is in a Train Station.”

Six months ago, the San Marcos resident discovered the advantages of commuting by Metrolink over braving the freeways. But far from forsaking his car, he now owns two.

He drives his Jeep Cherokee each morning to the Oceanside station, where he parks and catches the train to Fullerton. At the Orange County station, he drives his 1986 Volkswagen the remainder of his commute to Brea.


The second car rarely sees Curry’s driveway, he said. He bought it solely for the purpose of driving from the station to work and back.

“It is a convenience thing,” said Curry, 46, an insurance claims consultant.

Apparently, it is also a popular thing.

At the Irvine Transportation Center, which serves as a hub for Metrolink and Amtrak trains, so many commuters are parking second cars overnight that Irvine, which owns the station, is hoping to build a parking structure to meet the demand.

“During peak hours, there is a lot of jockeying for [parking] spaces,” said Rick Sandzimier, a project development administrator with the city. “We’ve had people turned away. And we don’t like to advertise this, but when that happens, we have to allow curbside parking” on nearby streets.

For a while, the station offered free valet parking to alleviate the logjam, Sandzimier said, but the grant that funded the program expired.

Metrolink officials don’t know how widespread the second-car trend is, but they have noticed it. The agency recently completed a survey of riders in which commuters were asked for the first time whether they keep a second car at a station.

“Parking availability at our stations in general is of concern to us since a lack of parking discourages use of our system,” said Francisco Oaxaca, a Metrolink spokesman.


Survey results are being tabulated, he said.

In Irvine, nearly half of the 500 parking spaces are taken overnight by commuters’ second cars, Sandzimier said. The number is higher on weekends as Amtrak travelers take up more spaces.

The situation creates gridlock in the mornings as residents from Irvine and nearby cities arrive to board the train to their jobs in Los Angeles, the Inland Empire and elsewhere, and struggle to find parking. In the afternoon, the roles are reversed.

The problem is more acute in hubs near both job centers and residential areas. Officials at Union Station in Los Angeles say most of the commuters there work downtown or nearby rather than live in the area, making parking lot congestion less likely. Other stations, such as Montebello/Commerce and Rancho Cucamonga, prohibit overnight parking.

But in many other stations, commuters’ second cars can dominate the parking lot.

When Curry, the commuter from San Marcos, arrives at the Fullerton station in the morning, he is followed by a procession of drivers intent on snatching his parking space.

“I’ve seen tempers flare,” he said. “It can get pretty rough.”

On a recent afternoon, Christine Randall drove by a few aisles before finding one of the few stalls available at the Irvine station.

“You have to time it right,” said Randall, an administrative assistant, after she eased her Toyota Corolla into a spot.


Randall, who keeps her Chevrolet Silverado at the other end of her commute in Corona, said her second car comes in handy for running errands during the day or for when she misses the train.

“I’ve had to drive to catch the train in Tustin a few times” because she couldn’t find a parking space in Irvine, she said. “It is my workhorse car,” Randall said fondly of her Toyota.

Irvine officials hope to alleviate the parking crunch with a 1,000-space garage, but the city is still looking for funding.

The Irvine station is also at the center of a pilot program that lets motorists from participating institutions use a pool of 12 Toyota RAV4 electric cars to get back and forth from the hub. During the day, the cars are used to get around the city.

Sponsors of the program -- which include the city, UC Irvine’s National Fuel Cell Research Center and Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. -- hope to expand to 40 cars by next summer.

The parking “is a problem only because we are so successful,” said Sandzimier, the Irvine official. “It is a good thing that so many people are riding the trains.”


Commuters like Curry and Randall agree. They say the cost of keeping a second car is nothing compared to the money and aggravation they save by avoiding the freeways.

“It would take me an hour and 30 minutes to drive to work,” Curry said. “It takes me an hour and eight minutes by train. And it is a stressful hour and 30 compared to a stress-free hour and eight.”

But keeping track of that second car can be tricky. Last week, Curry boarded the train from the Irvine station instead of his regular stop in Fullerton because of a business meeting. He may also board from a different station if he is working late and misses his regular train.

The next day, he has to plan his trip accordingly.

“Sometimes I have to stop and think,” Curry said. “Do I have a car on the other end?”