To the Editor:
My December 11, 2018 letter to the editor generated online interest. It’s easy to point out problems. Some people have asked what I would recommend as next steps based on my technology and strategy development experience. Clearly, the new parking meters, rate increases, removal of spaces, and changes in metered hours have hit a nerve with readers, and the changes have the potential to negatively impact our downtown businesses.
- Listen, listen, listen, and then listen some more. Mayor and council should convene at least two public outreach meetings dedicated to parking issues – one during the day, and one in the evening. A facilitator should be charged with recording the observations and ideas so they can be categorized and analyzed.
- Provide data for comparison. How many new meters do we have in each category compared to the old system? There seems to be a significant reduction of available metered spots. Be accountable and transparent.
- The administrator should renegotiate the contract with the consultant. At this point, this is a failed project implementation. The consultant should be required to return at no additional cost to attend the meetings and as a follow on offer possible solutions as the extent of the issues become known.
- Determine goals for our parking system. Just saying that prices haven’t increased in ten years is not an acceptable response. Prices should vary depending on desirability and time of day.
- Determine an owner. A corrective action project that is this important requires a single point of contact and coordination.
- Analyze the business needs in town. We have multiple coffee shops and other businesses that depend on take-out and customer pick-up, all of which involve parking for 15 minutes or less. A high minimum fee for a short stay (55 cents for about 15 minutes, 90 cents if you add the 35-cent app fee for app users) increases the consumer’s transaction cost significantly. A $3 cup of coffee is now effectively $3.55 to $3.95, an 18-32% increase. Olives, Small World Coffee, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Milk and Cookies, and eateries on Nassau are all establishments that rely on high turnover and available metered spots with a reasonable fee. Being able to attend a movie and have dinner is a time-honored “in town” activity. The new system makes it difficult. Think again about what is going on in town and what we want to achieve. Ultimately, a thriving retail economy delivers more to the Princeton community than increased parking revenue.
- Reassess the use and increased space allocated to loading zones. Some owners and employees continue to abuse the zones at the expense of the town, and to the detriment the other businesses and residents.
Based on social media comments and my experiences, other problems identified so far include:
- Jammed meters. Are so many people using coins that the meters are full? Are they structurally flawed?
- Meter design. The screen is difficult to read in low light and rain. The screen message is truncated.
- Software issues. The Park Princeton app is clumsy and not intuitive. I don’t know if Princeton’s software is proprietary or a rebranded standard offering.
- Proprietary software will make fixes more difficult.
- If the software cannot be fixed in a reasonable amount of time, abandon the software and install something that works out of the box. Take appropriate legal action, as this will be an expensive fix.
- Zones are not consistent with demand. The decrease in 10-hour zones makes longer visits to town difficult.
Judging by reactions to my earlier post, Princeton residents are dissatisfied and discouraged. Future communications from our mayor, administrator and council should be frequent and open. Social media use is strongly recommended.
Mr. Valente is a Princeton resident. His original post, “What we lost with the new Princeton parking meter system,” received more than 30 comments on the Planet Princeton website and more than 100 comments on social media channels.