May 8, 2019

Council Introduces Ordinance to Change Meter Times, Rates

By Anne Levin

At a meeting of Princeton Council Monday evening, the governing body voted unanimously to introduce an ordinance that, if adopted, will make much-demanded changes to the meter rates and times in downtown Princeton. A public hearing on the issue is May 28.

The meters that currently allow two hours of parking will be changed to three hours, and parking at all three-hour meters will be $1.75 an hour. The two-hour meters currently cost $2.25 an hour, while the three-hour meters have been $1.50 an hour. Fifteen-minute and 30-minute meters will continue in some locations. The 10-minute grace period that was part of the town’s old parking system will not be installed at this time.

All-day parking spots that were 75 cents an hour will be raised to $1 an hour. And in the Dinky train station lot, all-day parking has been upped from $4 to $5. These upward adjustments make the changes revenue-neutral. Merchants have complained that their businesses have suffered since the town installed new meters and raised rates late last year.

The revamping of Princeton’s parking system has been a topic of numerous meetings over the past few months, particularly between the municipality and members of the Princeton Merchants Association (PMA). Before Council voted Monday on the revisions to the plan, Mayor Liz Lempert thanked the merchants, the municipal staff, the Citizens Finance Advisory Committee, and members of the public for their work on fixing the issue.

In turn, PMA president Jack Morrison thanked the Council. “We wanted to be deficit neutral, and we’re now creating the entire town as one district,” he said. Dorothea Von Moltke of Labyrinth Books added that the process of re-adjusting the times and rates brought the merchants closer together. “Now, we’re ready to get the word out to people who said they’re not coming to downtown anymore, to bring them back,” she said.

Council held a special work session on the parking plan last month, focusing on recommendations made by the PMA. The organization had done a survey that found that the changes, which were put into place just before the holiday shopping season, had a “chillingly negative” effect on business. Since that meeting, the Pins and Needles knitting shop on Chambers Street closed its doors, blaming the parking changes as well as online retail.

Changes to meter fees and times will go into effect sometime after June 17, on a rolling basis. “We will figure out a very vigorous communication plan,” said Municipal Administrator Marc Dashield.

Dashield also provided details on a plan for parking ambassadors, who will be stationed throughout the town to help those having difficulty navigating the meters’ digital technology. Parking enforcement officers and some municipal staff members will be out and about wearing T-shirts to identify them, he said.

Dashield also recommended that Council authorize indefinite use of Smart Cards in the Spring Street Garage. But he warned that the technology in the garage is old and will not be reinvested in when it goes down. Smart Card holders can transfer balances on their cards to the PassportParking wallet app, on a voluntary basis. A detailed timeline for these changes should be available by the next Council meeting.

Council members Eve Niedergang and Tim Quinn recommended that instruction for those who have difficulty using the app should be available, possibly by tech-savvy high school students who could participate in the parking ambassadors program. Council President Jenny Crumiller commented that the app is not difficult to use, and encouraged people to try it. Council member Leticia Fraga agreed that the app is easy to use, but hasn’t always worked. “So hopefully, we’re tracking it,” she said.

Dashield also outlined a plan for a future ordinance related to tour buses. Those of a certain size will only be permitted to park on Alexander Street, across from the Dinky station, at parking spots that would be $20 an hour. That fee is in line with those in other communities that have a lot of traffic from tour buses, he said.

A map will be developed for the buses, which regularly drop off tourists in front of the Princeton University campus on Nassau Street. The buses are supposed to park on Alexander Street while waiting to return to pick up their passengers, but they sometimes park elsewhere. The measure will be brought in front of Council next month, Dashield said.