Borough Eyes New Parking System; Plan Includes Smart Cards, New Meters
Overnight parking for $1.50 and dual entrances on both Spring and Wiggins Streets are two changes anticipated with the new Park-and-Shop Garage currently under construction downtown. Details concerning parking in the garage, as well other parking plans were presented by Borough Administrator Robert Bruschi at a Borough Council meeting on Wednesday, November 12.
The four-and-a-half level garage on Spring Street will add 500 parking spaces downtown. Being built on land that was previously a 89-space parking lot, the garage is set for completion in early March.
The new garage will have lower rates at certain times of day, as well as machines that will collect parking money through credit cards, tickets, and a debit card system the Borough is instituting. The parking debit card, or Smart Card, can be purchased at Borough Hall for an initial fee of $10. It can be used both in the garage and at parking meters in lieu of cash. Dollar amounts of $20, $35 and $50 can be placed on the card, giving users a 10,15 or 20 percent parking credit. For example, a $35 Smart Card, with a 15 percent bonus, will give the user $40.25 worth of parking.
Along with the Smart Card, credit cards may also be used to pay for parking in garage machines. A machine to place cash on the Smart Card will be available at Borough Hall, but not in the garage.
"We're trying to avoid a lot of cash at the garage," Mr. Bruschi said.
As part of the plan, new downtown parking meters will be installed that will allow residents to use the Smart Card for street parking. By sliding the Smart Card into the meter, increments of 25 cents will be taken off the card and put into the meter. When the user returns to his or her car, he or she may get unused money back on their card by reinserting the card into the meter. Coins will still be accepted at parking meters, as well.
New parking meters to replace the more than 1,200 parking meters downtown have already been ordered, and are expected to be installed before the garage is completed, said Mr. Bruschi.
Concerning garage payment, several problems have yet to be worked out. Parkers must pay on foot at a machine if they take a ticket. But with the Smart Card or credit card, they may pay as they drive through. Other problems include lost or stolen Smart Cards; there is no way for the original owner to retrieve the money that they have put on the card. In addition, if a resident parking in the garage uses a credit card to pay as they go in, they must use the same credit card as they exit the garage.
Additional help will be on hand the first couple weeks the garage is open to help residents with such problems, Mr. Bruschi said.
As for street parking, excess meter feeding by using the Smart Card is seen as a possible problem.
The first 30 minutes of garage parking on the main level will be free. This will enable users to run a quick errand downtown without incurring expense. The upper levels of the garage will be used for regular patron parking.
"I think this is a good service to provide for the public," Mr. Bruschi said.
Regular rates between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. will be $1 for 30-60 minutes, $1 for the second hour, $1 for the third hour, and $1.50 for each hour after that, with a maximum payment of $16.50. Overnight parking, between the hours of 9 p.m. and 9 a.m., will be 25 cents for every two hours, with a maximum payment of $1.50.
"We've suggested that because we used to have to sell overnight parking permits," said Mayor Marvin Reed.
Currently, the cost for overnight street parking permits is $25 per month, which is much less than the approximate $45 residents will pay if they park in the garage overnight. The Council is hoping out of town guests will be encouraged to use the garage for short-term parking.
Sundays and holidays will have a charge of 25 cents per hour.
"We want to get people comfortable with using the garage," said Mr. Bruschi in a separate interview. "We have been told that people like to park on the street, and we would prefer that they just go directly to the garage and park."
The new garage costs will differ slightly from the Palmer Square and Hulfish garages. The cost to park in the existing garages for 8 hours is $12, and $16 for a full 24 hours. In the new garage, it will cost $10.50 to park for 8 hours, and $16.50 for 24 hours.
The price to park on Sunday will be comparable in all three garages. However, the Hulfish and Palmer Square overnight parking hours are 4:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. at a cost of $3, while the new garage will charge $1.50 from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m., which allows more morning hours to retrieve the car, but less evening hours, which will preclude low-cost parking while dining downtown.
Up to 45 apartment residents will be issued an unlimited parking permit on the lower level of the garage for a fee of $150 per month. The Council is also looking into providing spaces for 15 retail store managers at the same rate; however, Councilman Roger Martindell objected to the idea of using up those spaces in the garage.
He said the garage should be used as a convenience for shoppers who are coming in and out throughout the day.
"We can provide [spaces], but we don't need to provide them right in that garage," he said.
For example, staff of the Princeton Public Library won't be parking in the garage, but will be able to park in 33 spaces at the Merwick Rehab Hospital and Nursing Care Center, located off Route 206.
Library patrons will receive up to two hours of free garage parking, which can be validated at the front desk of the library.
Promotion of the garage will include fliers, signs downtown, and cable programs on CATV. Mr. Bruschi said he expects the state to fund, at least in part, these extra costs.
In addition, the Council is considering a "soft opening" for the garage, charging only 25 cents per hour during opening week.
These preparations are being made to get drivers off the street. Many drivers continually drive up and down Nassau Street and neighboring roads searching for a parking spot, Mr. Bruschi said. The Council would like to see drivers go directly to the garage when they enter town.
A crane for the downtown construction arrived on Thursday, November 13, said Carl Peters, Borough engineer. The foundation is complete on the library side of the construction site, and workers will continue to work from sunrise to sunset, six days a week, to complete the project in the most thorough manner, he said.
The Princeton Public Library staff is hoping the garage will be complete by early March, said Eric Greenfeldt, assistant library director. He said the library is very much dependent upon the parking that will become available in the garage.
"We fully expect the garage to be complete in early March," he said. "In case of delay, we would be very cautious about opening without the parking garage available."