STONE HARBOR – Borough merchants spent part of the summer 2023 season calming hundreds of angry customers who received parking tickets as a result of the rollout of a new parking management system that relied on the ParkMobile app.
The meters were gone, the kiosks were removed, and, some argue, the signage was not adequate. The result was a surge in parking violations, with 3,409 tickets issued compared to 748 the year prior.
On Tuesday, Jan. 16, the Borough Council heard a presentation from Administrator Manny Parada on parking options as officials seek to avoid a replay of last summer in 2024. Stone Harbor charges for parking in and around its business district from May 1 through Oct. 1.
According to Parada, the change in parking management strategy began with the increasing number of problems emanating from the meter and kiosk system. Maintenance issues with the kiosks in particular led to rising costs for the Public Works budget and caused problems for those who parked in areas of the business district.
The ParkMobile app was an option Stone Harbor officials felt fit their needs and came with a built-in knowledge base among visitors, since it is used in six other county municipalities. Parada maintains that assumptions of a smooth transition were actually proven right for 99% of the parking transactions that occurred in the borough last summer.
The problem was the 350%-plus hike in tickets issued. For business district visitors who received one of those tickets, the fact that “most people” figured out the use of the new system was of little comfort.
Parada pointed to the added costs to the borough caused by the added tickets, noting that the borough took the step of adding a part-time clerk to the municipal court to handle the large increase in court activity.
The heart of Parada’s presentation was an examination of a new kiosk system that could be offered as an option for those having difficulty with the smartphone app.
The administrator said the purchase, installation and operation of kiosks as an option for paid parking would itself consume most of the revenue the borough receives from parking unless rates were increased significantly. Parada also pointed to the complexities of end-user operation of the kiosk.
He said he doubted that the kiosk option would solve the technology challenge that hampered the ParkMobile rollout. Those who have trouble with the app are likely to have the same problems with the kiosks, Parada suggested.
Council President Frank Dallahan asked if the borough should just end the practice of charging for parking, citing the experience in neighboring Avalon as an example of a free-parking community. The many problems with that option include the strong desire of the business community for having turnover in limited parking spaces in order to support more foot traffic in the business district.
There was some discussion of expanding the borough’s small parking permit program as a way of helping those most challenged by the app system, but that program is not aimed at the constant flow of new visitors who come to the district each summer. The permit system was only designed for designated parking lots and not for the busy street parking in the business district.
In the end, Mayor Judith Davies-Dunhour said the borough had done its due diligence with the analysis of a kiosk option, but the option appeared to be too pricey. She suggested that increasing signage to better inform people of areas with paid parking and perhaps expanding the parking ambassador program of roaming ambassadors who identify and help those having trouble with the app would be sufficient this year.
During public comment, some local business owners asked if the kiosk analysis could be redone with a small number of kiosks as options. Parada had estimated a need for 29 kiosks, and the suggestion was to look at options where just a few were offered. That posed the problem that Parada identified as “How far will a person walk to get to a parking kiosk?”
The issue of how the borough will respond to its parking issues in 2024 was left open as a matter of future discussion. Davies-Dunhour said it would be brought back to the agenda for the Tuesday, Feb. 6, meeting.
The council also left open the establishment of parking fees for 2024. Councilwoman Jennifer Gensemer said that “is a whole other issue that needs resolution.” Gensemer, who chairs the council’s Administration and Finance Committee, said the council was not yet ready to address the parking fees, which could be impacted by the further discussion of parking options.
Parada’s slide presentation on parking can be reviewed in the video post of the meeting available on the borough’s website, stoneharbornj.org. It begins approximately 43 minutes into the meeting.
Contact the author, Vince Conti, at email@example.com.