By Kevin Coughlin
The Morristown council introduced a measure on Tuesday that would double some parking meter rates, as the Morristown Parking Authority prepares to replace hundreds of coin meters with solar-powered credit card meters.
If approved by the council on May 26, 2015, the meter increases will be the first in 17 years.
A Budd Street resident complained that employees of the new Whole Foods store are parking in her neighborhood. George Fiore, executive director of the parking authority, said the supermarket has leased 60 spaces for its workers at the Dalton garage on Cattano Avenue. Mayor Tim Dougherty said his administration will investigate whether the store should lease more garage spaces.
The Mayor also directed the town engineer to examine another Budd Street resident’s claim that hundreds of motorists, many from out of town, are using the street as a cut-through on workday mornings.
At another resident’s request, the council tabled a vote to impose two-hour parking limits on Miller and Washington streets.
But most of the council’s attention focused on the presentation by the parking authority, a quasi-autonomous agency that receives no local tax dollars or any revenue from the parking tickets written by its employees.
RATES AND REASONS
Street meters now charge 50 cents an hour. That rate will double to $1 at 431 credit card meters proposed for South, Morris, Washington, Market, Bank, Ann and DeHart streets; Speedwell, Cattano and Maple avenues; and Schuyler and Community places.
The minimum amount of time that would be allowed for credit card parking has not been determined. But Parking consultant Gerard Giosa said it must be more than 25 cents — the transaction fee that the parking authority will incur for each transaction.
Another 290 coin meters at less-busy locations won’t be replaced, at least not yet. Rates for those will increase to 75 cents an hour.
The credit card meters, which also accept coins, are estimated to cost the parking authority about $225,000, and take about six months to install. Giosa told the council that rate hikes are necessary to cover credit card authorization costs and transaction fees that will be charged by banks.
Increases also are needed, the parking authority says, to repay $35 million of debt for construction of parking garages that helped revitalize the downtown, and for construction of the authority’s offices at 14 Maple Ave., an environmental showcase that is home to the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Morristown Partnership, Grow It Green Morristown and other nonprofits.
Enforcement costs also have risen sharply over the last 17 years, as the parking authority has assumed enforcement of residential street parking regulations for the town, Giosa said.
The parking authority hopes higher rates will create greater turnover of street spaces, and will encourage shoppers to use the garages at DeHart, Cattano, Ann & Bank streets and the Vail Mansion. People who work in downtown shops and restaurants qualify for a discount that will make the garages cheaper than metered street parking, the Mayor said.
Mayor Dougherty also inquired whether the parking authority could develop a smartphone app to warn visitors when their metered parking is about to expire, and perhaps give them a one-time extension of their 90-minute limit. Parking tickets top the list of complaints he hears from out-of-towners, he said.
“If I was going to a Morristown restuarant and paying $200 for a dinner for four, and I came out eight minutes too late and got a big ticket, I probably wouldn’t want to come back to Morristown,” the Mayor said.
Conversely, he asked whether the new meters will alert the ticket writers when a parking limit is about to expire.
“There needs to be transparency on that, so the public knows,” the Mayor said.
Giosa said the authority would look into both questions.
Councilman Michael Elms asked if it might be better to hold off on the new credit card meters, to wait for a system to enable motorists to pay for parking via smartphones. Giosa replied that such systems are available now in Montclair and Bloomfield, but less than 1 percent of drivers there actually pay by smartphone. And enforcement requires use of third-party services, the consultant said.
Alison Deeb, the council member for the Fourth Ward, inquired whether residents could get discounted street parking. (Giosa said he doubted any meters could determine residency.) The councilwoman also said some towns allow a few minutes of free parking for people running errands.
Council President Rebecca Feldman asked if the new meters could offer tiered pricing, charging more for people who want the convenience of paying by credit card. She suggested this might provide greater incentive for motorists to use the garages.
Giosa said the authority would give the idea some thought.
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