The mayor said the meters are solar powered and operate by drivers typing in their license plates.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Metered parking downtown will start in the new year.
The city will be installing the new parking kiosks on North Street and in the First Street and McKay lots in December and the program will go live on Jan. 3.
On Wednesday, Mayor Linda Tyer gave a demonstration of how the new meters will work at one of two on display in the city prior to implementation.
"These are solar-powered parking meters and we will be placing them on North Street and in the McKay Street parking lot and the First Street parking lot in mid-December. They will go live Jan. 3," Tyer said. "When we start to install them in mid-December we are going to put a big red bow and we're going to wish people a happy holiday, parking is still free."
The two parking lots will be changed from parking limited by time to being metered, allowing vehicles to stay as long as the meter is fed. The cost 50 cents per hour in the lots; $1 an hour on North Street. On the side streets off of North Street, there are some 376 other spaces that will remain free but with a time limit.
"This is Phase 1 of a plan we will be adding onto as time goes on," Tyer said.
The meters will be placed one for every six or eight parking spaces. A driver simply enters the license plate number into the system. The city's parking clerks have license-plate readers linked to the meters to know if there is time left on the meter. The meters take credit and debit cards and coins — but not dollar bills.
The meters are also linked to the Passport app through which drivers are able to add time to the meter without having to go back to feed it. The app is the same program used in other major cities.
The first 30 minutes in any of the spots will be free in the new plan. Enforcement will start at 8 a.m. and go until 4 in the downtown and be extended to 5 p.m. in the lots. Parking meter violations, according to city code, is $15 for the first offense in a calendar year and $30 for subsequent offenses. That fine is stricter than the overtime fine for the timed spots, which allows the first offense to be free and $15 for the second offense.
Switching to metered parking has been three years in the making. In December 2013, consulting firm Nelson Nygaard was paid $75,000 to take a comprehensive look at the downtown parking situation. In May 2014, the firm reported that there is a lot of parking downtown, but there were spots with significantly higher demand than other areas.
For the most part, the city uses time limits on parking — with an array of different times — and the firm suggested eliminating that and instead go to paid parking to create a premium on the higher-demand spots. The idea was to charge more for North Street and less for the further away spaces.
Another recommendation from the consultant, however, was to open the McKay Street garage and allow free parking on the roof. That proposal was backed by Downtown Pittsfield Inc.
However, when the pricing plan was brought before the Traffic Commission, it was decided that the garage would remain permit parking only. Former Director of Maintenance Denis Guyer said at the time that the roof wasn't to be opened for free parking for fear it would devalue the permits issued.
A surprising number of city department heads played roles in rolling out the plan — from maintenance who manages enforcement to the Department of Community Development integrating it with the North Street reconstruction project.
Downtown Pittsfield argued for the free parking on the roof — or at least some other spot for free parking — and the Traffic Commission said it would send a letter to Tyer calling to incorporate that.
Despite the three groups urging for it, Tyer stuck with plans to keep it permit only.
"McKay parking garage is going to be for permit parking only. All of the people have permits and park at the McKay lot, they are going to get into the garage. That opens up the lot for parking for people who need three hours or one hour. So the top deck may be taken up with permit parkers," Tyer said.
The mayor said the side streets remain free but timed, and weekends and evenings are free in all metered spots, so there is a lot of free parking available.
"I think we have found the right balance but we will adjust as we move through this process if we find there is some aspect of it that is not working," Tyer said.
The city renovated the McKay Street garage for $6.5 million, with $3.5 million of that coming from the state. The state required the city to take on a parking plan to ensure the structure would be properly maintained. The city spent a half-million in capital funds to roll out the new plan.
"I was on a mission to get these installed by Nov. 1. But there was a lot of programming, the credit card process, there was banking involved, programming involved, no matter how determined I was to get them installed by Nov. 1, there were some logistics that we had to deal with," Tyer said.
"We're looking at mid-December now. We've heard clearly from the merchants — and I respect the merchants and the downtown shoppers — we don't want to create any kind of sore feelings around, 'oh, sure, you put them in on Dec. 15, just in time for Christmas shopping period.'"
Instead the meters will be installed but not implemented until January.
The city ordered 45 meters, at $7,600 a piece, to install throughout the downtown. It was estimated that the entire program, with enforcement and maintenance, will cost $1,013,388 annually. The metered parking and permit sales would tally $1,065,923 — a net revenue of $52,535. The meters alone are expected to bring in $409,319 per year.
Eventually, the plan rolled out by Nelson Nygaard calls for the creation of a parking authority and a specific account ensuring the money collected from parking is put right back into the maintenance of the lots and garages.
On Tuesday, the mayor said she hadn't decided how the revenues will be sorted, either through the creation of a new account or by allowing the revenues to flow into the general fund as it currently does.
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