What we lost with the new Princeton parking meter system

Dear Editor:

Being a merchant is difficult. Being a merchant in Princeton is extra difficult. The town council, mayor, and administrator’s office can’t possibly spend any time in town. The new parking debacle is an affront to our merchants and citizens. It’s frightening that our leadership made significant investments in parking studies, focus groups, and questionnaires, and then proceeded with the poorest implementation that I could imagine. We have a different parking system, not a state of the art parking system. Let me count the ways:

  • We lost the grace period.
  • Rates increased significantly, and now a cup of coffee is a dollar more –  30-minute meters, 27 minutes for a dollar – no grace period, so you put more money in.
  • You can’t get unused time back like you could with the old parking card.
  • There is a 35-cent courtesy charge to use the app and it doesn’t work for less that $1. 
  • We lost two parking spaces at every crosswalk.
  • We lost about 25 parking spaces to new loading zones.
  • Trucks still block a traffic lane or park in metered spots, exacerbating the loss of paid parking spaces.
  • The parking app is different than the one at the Dinky and almost everywhere else from here to Philadelphia.

Wake up, it’s not a success. It’s a failure. Talk to us please.

Lou Valente
Princeton

Please share your thoughts on this story.

36 comments
  • Perhaps the best decision is to immediately suspend meter services until the town responds. There are quick fixes to pricing, loading zones, grace periods, app fees etc that can be made immediately then re-introduce the innovative and effective smart cards…. Parking should not be overcomplicated like it now has become. Agree, we need an accountable person that is looking out for Princeton’s best interest…

  • Yesterday, I wanted to make a quick return to a downtown store at the end of the day. I found a 30-min meter nearby and got out my smartphone flashlight to see the screen so that I could plug in a quarter. I was dumbfounded to learn that the parking fee would be $2.30 for my 5-min store visit. I passed.

    When I got home and tried to see a list of Princeton parking rates online, I found the URL, https://www.princetonnj.gov/resources/meter-rates, and entered it only to get the reply “Not found.” I tried again today and got the same response. Who is responsible for this?

    Parking in Princeton was easy and fair during the SmartCard era. The current parking situation in Princeton is worse than terrible for residents, merchants, workers, and visitors alike. This craziness must be ended – and soon – or else downtown Princeton will turn into a ghost town.

  • An additional issue is that the new meters don’t seem to work well. I’ve only used them a few times so far, but half of the time, I have had a non-working meter or pay station.

  • If it’s goal was to reduce driving to town, it’s probably pretty effective. What about tourists and visitors though? Buttons are nearly impossible to see in the dark. Upcharge on app is a big disincentive to use. Safe crosswalking still not achieved even with reduction of spaces at corners.

  • I, too, have been avoiding the downtown because most of the 10 hour spots vanished with the old meters. The most bothersome aspect is that a “parking consultant” was paid to invent an inoperable, expensive system. What a pity that our town leaders didn’t have the guts to forgo that absurd expense in favor of just looking at a few municipalities ( or even the Junction parking lot!), talking to a some mayors, and learning what a fair and effective system looks like.

  • there are limits to how long one can park and make it much more difficult to attend a cultural program like an evening of choir concerts on the Princeton Campus.
    My family has lived in Princeton since 1982. I find those new parking meters too expensive and with difficult time restrictions. It has made Princeton a less friendly use place, to go shopping, have a cup of coffee, a walk in town or a cultural outing. I used to go everyday down town. Not anymore due to those new expensive meters.

  • agree. a big hassle to park using the app. it is a multistep process to even start a new session and then very difficult to specify how much time you want and of course NO Option costs less than $1, Using a credit card directly is easier but still a $1 minimum when all one wants is 5 mins. The meters take change but this means you have to have change! With the Smartcards, we got out of this habit. Seems like a big step backward. Personally I avoid going to town to shop. Hopefully things will pick up at the shopping center which can use the business and has free parking!

  • All of the above, plus you can’t even put enough money/credit in a meter on Nassau Street to watch the full movie at the Garden Theatre. And ditto to not being able to read it in the dark. Miss the old Smart Card, the new system is not smart.

  • For safety, New Jersey Law prohibits parking within 25 feet of a crosswalk, because the parked vehicle blocks the view of pedestrians trying to cross,

    see: https://lis.njleg.state.nj.us/nxt/gateway.dll?f=templates&fn=default.htm&vid=Publish:10.1048/Enu

    39:4-138.6 Municipal authority to set certain permissible parking distances.

    2. A municipality may mandate by ordinance the permissible distance a person may park a motor vehicle from a crosswalk , side line of a street or intersecting highway, or “stop” sign. A municipality may not, however, permit parking within 25 feet of a crosswalk or side line of a street or intersecting highway or within 50 feet of a “stop” sign in a school zone during hours when school is in session.

    L.2009, c.257, s.2.

  • I absolutely agree. I could not believe that an hour on Nassau Street costs so much, $3-4, and they charge me a service fee if 35 cents above that every time I move my car to go to a different store or another part of town. At the very least, residents who pay property taxes here should get a discount for shopping and using their own town amenities.

  • For 40 years, my holiday shopping has begun and ended in downtown Princeton. Looks like it’s time to skip the aggravation and head straight for MarketFair and QB.

  • This was a huge mistake. I work for a very large prominent business on route one in Princeton. Every since the new meters have been installed not one person from my office has gone to lunch in town. EVERYONE agrees these new meters are a huge turn off to spend money in town and therefor over 50 of us all take our money elsewhere. Sad, we liked going to Olives and other lunch spots in town.

  • On the bright side, this is the first time I have seen a local issue on which absolutely everyone agrees. If this parking debacle is the feckless town council’s attempt to bring unity in a time of division, it is working fabulously!

  • The anti-car cult on the Princeton council has run amok and will not be satisfied until they drive all the local businesses, which depend on parking, out of business. It’s really a shame and is a prime example why so many people in this country vote Republican, even with Trump as the leader. The local Democratic monopoly seems to be exemplifying the pro-tax, anti-business cliche.

  • I agree wholeheartedly! In addition to making it unpleasant to run quick errands (buy fresh bread, etc.) it’s already influenced where we meet. I have friends who are consciously “boycotting” downtown because the new system, rates, etc. are so frustrating. On top of which I noticed that a number of parking spaces around Palmer Square were removed.
    Not mentioned here is that for employers in Princeton, there is no longer an easy way to pay for their employees parking!
    Huge turnoff for those of us who live on the outskirts.

  • It is easy to plant a parking meter and increase parking fees when people deciding about this DO NOT LIVE IN DOWNTOWN Princeton.

    Council paid for a parking study, they got input from residents/visitors and then doubled parking fees, impose metered parking on Sunday on Nassau St., and no more grace period.

    I can’t remember seeing that in the questionnaire for related parking study?

    Bottom line – about 20% -30% of residents elected Mayor and Council members and there we are now 70%-80% of us wondering what happened.

    Vote them out!
    I don’t think the party association has something with it but we need “fresh blood”.

    By the way, there is unofficially free parking zone in downtown Princeton – where was the old post office loading dock – this area is not metered and you can park for free.

  • I have
    lived in Plainsboro for thirty five years.Parking in Princeton has stopped many visits to one of our favorite places to enjoy.What a shame!

  • What’s more, business owners and employees have lost a significant number of 10 hour spots. This has been very disappointing and much less convenient for those of us who work in town.

  • What’s more, business owners and employees have lost a significant number of affordable 10 hour spots.

  • I absolutely agree on every point, Lou, but from a consumer perspective. Additionally the meters no longer take anything less than a quarter…so the 30second UPS drop-off now has to cost at least 25cents. And if you’re out of quarters then that drop off costs at least $1.70 with the app! Not to mention it’s like big brother watching…with the loss of the grace period comes an immediate police officer, because the app informs them your meter is up. So when the store takes 2 minutes longer than you expected, your slapped with a notice. The meters are a turn-off to going downtown, and for locals, that’s an awful shame.

  • I always thought Mayor Lempert was a good egg. But it’s obvious the new parking situation is getting someone rich… and it ain’t the folks that are parking. So this egg has gone rotten to the yolk. I stood in line at a parking kiosk on University – in the cold rain – and listened as folks tried to negotiate the instructions while those standing behind impatiently shifted their feet. This is a boondoggle of the worst kind, and will surely impact visitors and merchants alike. We – there are many with whom I’ve spoken – always thought Princeton used its parking as an income generator, not a visitor convenience… especially when the goofballs in the township golf carts show up five seconds after a meter has expired, gleefully slapping on a $40 plus dollar fine… then blocking traffic while they park side-by-side and take a break. It’s enough that Princeton is a small town with horrible traffic; now it’s parking experience has added to the bad branding. The merchants and residents should form a committee and take the traffic and parking into their own hands. Surely there’s folks among them smart enough to solve the problem.

  • This type of thing always happens with the downtown business district becasue NOT ONE member of council is a merchant. It has been way too many years without representation of the merchant’s voice on council. The downtown merchant issues concerning properly-timed garbage pick-up and parking needs – (both consumer and employee) – continue to be overlooked again and again. IT IS TIME FOR A RESIDENT-MERCHANT TO SERVE ON COUNCIL AGAIN!!!! Someone, please run!!

  • As a merchant, customer and resident of Princeton I am flabbergasted by the (imbecilic) thought process that went into these new meters.
    I recently had the misfortune of having to park on Spring street at the rate of $0.25 per 7 minutes. With ZERO grace period. So my parking for dinner that evening cost me $5.50 for 2 1/2 hours. But God forbid you under estimate your stay, the parking Police is at the ready to slam you with a $42 fine. Happy Holidays!
    As a resident of planet earth; I have been exposed to dozens of parking systems that are leagues above this mess. Is the council so inept that they felt only they could come up with the best solution? Are they so out of touch that they felt the problem causing so many empty retail spaces was that they were undercharging visitors to park? I guess when you live in the fantasy world of bike paths and a University that is sucking off the public teet tax free, you tend to have an unrealistic view of reality.

    However; I suppose that in the spirit of Christmas these meters make sense. What better way to learn to appreciate the gifts and blessings you have and to love your fellow man than to reflect on the blind greed and callous hearts of our elected officials.

    A La Plancha

  • 12/16, 2018
    Dear Ms. Lempert,
    The new parking meters are a catastrophe! Why did you inflict them on us? Not only have the fees and enforced hours become much more expensive (for explanation see Town Topics, December 12, p. 9: “the new rate structure [ . . . ] factored in the cost of the new equipment”), but also are these parking meters unusable. One cannot read the instructions on the new pay stations in the dark, and as it is getting dark now at 4:30 pm, but performances start only at 8 pm, until when one has to pay now, one is totally helpless. Looking for meters that could be fed individually, as you proudly advertise either with coins or credit cards, when I recently had tickets for the Richardson Auditorium University concert, I was confronted with every single parking meter up and down on University Place and its cross streets covered with a plastic bag saying “Parking by Permit only”. So forget about coins and credit cards, there is zero use for them.
    The Smart Card was a wonderful system and also a just one, because it reimbursed your unused money. Now the Smart Card is out, except for the Spring Street Garage until April. What purpose can the Spring Street Garage provide me, a senior citizen, if I want to go to McCarter Theatre for example? I appreciate it that you relented and will now return any credit left on our Smart Card after next April. However, if I understand correctly, 10% plus an administrative fee will be deducted. Why are we financially punished, – we did not install the new meters, you did.
    I have lived in Princeton since 1965, for more than half a century, but I will no longer patronize the downtown shops or restaurants, it is impossible now, and while I can live without the amenities that Princeton previously offered, I am sorry for the town’s businesses, for I am certainly not the only one, who is affected by that new equipment.
    Gerda Panofsky
    Battle Road

  • I don t agree with Lou. We now can pay with Credit card which is nice.
    Prices go up which is normal once in a while.
    Trucks still have to park, it is unfortunate but necessary and like before.

  • Your are right on target. Princeton seems to be very unfriendly toward merchants and businesses. In addition, it is very hard to find the inexpensive parking zones–and they seem to have eliminated a lot of them. When I called the parking authority for information and clarification, they were not very helpful. And then the full page spread they had in Town Topics about the new parking before the new meters were installed and working which stated that there would be some free parking while they installed new meters, was erroneous–there was no such free parking.

  • The new meter system is horrible, and means I will be spending less time shopping in Princeton. I can’t be expected to pay $1+ just so I can pickup some <5-minute item (like takeout, bread, etc). Not only that, but it's so much harder to find a spot with all the ones that were decommissioned. The app surcharge is crazy, and to add insult to injury, the displays on the meters are cut off…so you can't even read what they say. I'm genuinely baffled how any aspect of this was allowed to be implemented.

  • I could not agree more about what a debacle this parking situation is, as well as your assumption that no one from city council or the mayor’s office shops in town. The complete disregard for the merchants and the health of the community is appalling.

  • Lou, that’s what happens when local government becomes inbred. There’s no one to say “Wait a minute … this is stupid!” no one to question a shoddy decision-making process and no one to look over the shoulders of our elected officials to see if anything shady is going on.

    The whole “Princeton-only app” fiasco should be investigated. What imbecile thought this would be a good idea? Who greased the palms of our elected officials to get this wretched deal?

    Seriously, since a Republican can never get elected to Council, it is time for a third party in Princeton. The Black Squirrel Party? “I’m as fit as a Black Squirrel” (channelling my inner Teddy Roosevelt) might seem odd, but a far sight better than elected officials who define the word “clueless.”

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