Portland garage policy piques islanders

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PORTLAND — A change at the Casco Bay Lines garage has stirred island residents who say it means they can’t use the Commercial Street building.

Last month, island residents who pay for monthly parking received letters telling them they had to come in by Feb. 24 to renew their passes because of a software update installed by MHR Management, managers of the Casco Bay Municipal Parking Garage.

That means some parkers, like siblings Brad and Towanda Brown of Long Island, had to find somewhere else to park.

The Browns hold power of attorney for their mother. Brad Brown said their car is in his name and he typically drives his mother where she needs to go, although her name is on the garage pass.

The problem is, the Browns’ mother is in Florida and won’t return until April.

MHR required the actual owners of parking passes to obtain their new passes in person. Proxies were not allowed, even if the card owner listed household members on the pass.

That means people like the Browns can’t use the garage.

“If someone gets a new pass they have to come in personally. We don’t mail passes out, we don’t allow them to not be here in person. If they lose their pass they have to come in to get a new pass reissued,” MHR customer service manager Mark Brown (no relation to Brad and Towanda) said. He said the policy is “cut and dry” and has been in effect for nearly 30 years at the garage, which is minority owned by the city.

Towanda Brown said there was no way she and her brother would have known their mother had to physically be there to renew the pass, because in 17 years the managers “never sent a contract to (my mother).”

“When my brother (was given) power of attorney there’s no way he would have known anything about updating or registering information, because we didn’t have any paperwork on it,” she said.

Mark Brown said this is the first time to his knowledge all the passes had to be reissued at the same time. He said replacing all the passes has been a “challenging scenario,” but has gone smoothly and the majority of pass owners had been understanding.

Some parkers, however, believe the garage management company is trying to force out monthly renters.

Dominick DeAngelo, a resident of Purceville, Virginia, who spends summers on Peaks Island and has a pass for the garage, said he thought the timing of the notification was aimed at getting rid of “monthlies.”

“To me this is ‘let’s make this as inconvenient as possible, so maybe you won’t renew,'” DeAngelo said. He said he believed the garage might be more interested in daily fees from tourists than the $140 he and others pay monthly.

“Undoubtedly they can make a lot more money with daily parking than they can with monthly parking. Some of us question whether it’s legal that they’re trying to force the monthly parkers out,” Brad Brown said.

Mark Brown said that theory is “completely false.” He said the majority of people affected have understood the changes and have come in for their new passes.

“There are a few people on the island that are making this a very large topic and we’ve welcomed them in to talk to them, but yet when they hear ‘no,’ they don’t like the answer,” he said.

The pass lasts for a lifetime, according to Brown, and can stay with a spouse who is on the agreement if the owner dies. It cannot be be willed to children or deeded if ownership of a home changes, he said, because that would lengthen the waiting list for spots, which is already two to three years long.

MHR hosted three public meetings on the islands in mid-February about the passes. Brown said MHR has attempted to be as accommodating to pass holders as possible, by agreeing to meet on weekends, on Peaks Island, or even at the ferry dock to reissue passes.

Meanwhile, Brad and Towanda Brown are still paying for their mother’s space, even though they cannot get into the garage.

Brad Brown said he has been parking his car at his nephew’s home in South Portland, and has to take a taxi to get it.

MHR’s Mark Brown said the Brown family and others who continue to pay for passes can get their new ones whenever the primary owner shows up.

“Anybody who has a pass and who is paying for that pass, there’s no deadline. So if they want to come in October, they can pick up their pass in October,” he said.

The situation has also attracted attention from state Rep. Janice Cooper, D-Yarmouth, who also represents Chebeague Island and Long Island.

“Just as the ferries are the lifelines for these people, so, too, is convenient, affordable parking,” Cooper said. “Many islanders are elderly, and traipsing across icy roads and sidewalks to remote garages is often impossible.”

Brown, of MHR, said complaints go with the territory.

“Ninety-five percent of the people in customer service are happy,” he said, “and 5 percent will have a complaint or two that you need to address.”

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Island residents who park in the Casco Bay Municipal Parking Garage at 54 Commercial St. in Portland had to renew their monthly passes because of a software update. The change has created challenges for those who don’t live in Maine year round.

A sign at the Casco Bay Municipal Parking Garage alerts monthly renters that their old passes are no longer valid.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.