October 22, 2014

Merchants Consider Possible Parking Options

When the Spring Street Garage next to Princeton Public Library opened a decade ago, the technology used for payment was considered state-of-the-art. But not for long.

“We were at the cutting edge, we thought. But that cutting edge lasted about 30 minutes,” joked Bob Bruschi, the town’s administrator. Mr. Bruschi was speaking to members of the Princeton Merchants Association Tuesday morning about parking, a hot topic among those who patronize local establishments and those who run them.

Along with Mayor Liz Lempert and the town’s Assistant Engineer Deanna Stockton, Mr. Bruschi was at the meeting to get feedback from merchants about some parking innovations being considered for the garage and other locations in the central business district. The topic will be on the agenda at the next Princeton Council meeting on Monday, October 27.

“Technology has changed so much,” said Mr. Bruschi, who recalled that parking meters cost six cents an hour when he was growing up in Princeton. “We’re at the point now where we know we need to make some decisions. We’re very excited over the options, but we’re also nervous about them.”

Anyone who parks in the Spring Street Garage knows the frustration of getting caught behind a line of vehicles trying to exit when the gate malfunctions. Whether to upgrade the present post-pay infrastructure at the garage or switch to a pre-pay system is the main question, Ms. Stockton said in her presentation. “The post-pay infrastructure is a very easy system, as long as it works,” she said. “Pre-pay is more difficult, but there are advantages.”

Among the options with pre-paying are bulk coupons for merchants to offer customers, and the ability to make payments, validations, and adding time through cell phones and computers. While the pre-pay option would be cheapest for the municipality, keeping the post-payment option is “in the mid-range,” Ms. Stockton said. “It’s just a matter of switching out the technology.” The most costly option would be hiring people to take payments in booths, as in the Palmer Square garage.

Mr. Bruschi said the technical abilities of people who park in town are being considered. “Are they savvy enough? We do have an aging population,” he said. “Would we drive people away if it was too advanced?”

Joanne Farrugia, who owns Jazam’s in Palmer Square, said she has concerns about the more technologically advanced option. “We still have customers who don’t get it about getting their parking validated,” she said. “You just want to keep it as simple as possible.” Others in the audience expressed similar sentiments.

There are 1,100 single-head meters, seven surface lots, and three parking garages in Princeton. Multi-space meters have been installed on Alexander Street and at the temporary Dinky train station, and more will be added when the new Dinky station opens next month, Ms. Stockton said.

The Spring Street Garage is a priority because of its aging technology. Asked whether they would favor upgrading the post-payment system or switching to a pre-payment initiative, most at the meeting raised their hands for the former. A few more indicated they were undecided.

“I understand wanting to keep it simple,” said Mr. Bruschi. “But we also want to be able to grow this as people become more technologically savvy.”

At the close of the meeting, Mr. Bruschi, who is retiring at the end of the year after 15 years on the job, was presented with a gift from the Princeton Merchants Association for his service to the business community.