Montpelier council revisits parking woes
By Eric Blaisdell
STAFF WRITER | August 30,2013
MONTPELIER — At its meeting Wednesday, the City Council discussed a hot button issue in Montpelier: parking.
The council heard from the parking committee on what it is working on to improve parking in Montpelier as well as any recommendations the committee had on other actions that might be taken. They discussed bringing smart parking meters to the Capital, possible parking permit increases in the city and increased parking space for buses during foliage season.
Over the next year, the committee will be conducting a study looking at bringing in so-called “smart” parking meters that accept credit and debit card payments. Kevin Casey, community development specialist for the city and a member of the parking committee, predicted that the new meters would increase parking revenues because people will find paying by credit or debit card easier and won’t “feel the pain quite as much” as when they pay with change.
The city would also be able to adjust the parking rates at the meters more easily and quickly as it would be a software change that would be sent out wirelessly to all the meters. Casey said the city could also make certain spots, such as ones in front of popular restaurants, more expensive to help increase revenue.
City Manager William Fraser said that meter rates typically have been raised only once every 10 years and the percentage of the increases historically has been large — say, from 50 to 75 cents per hour — because coinage is involved. Now, though, the increases could be smaller and much easier to implement with the electronically-centered smart meters.
Besides the issue of parking revenues, the perceived misuse of parking spaces is also an issue in the city. Mayor John Hollar told the meeting that he hears regularly from citizens that the time limits on two-hour parking spaces are being abused.
“There’s a perception that a lot of employees downtown park there all day or for more than two hours,” he said.
Police Chief Anthony Facos admitted that enforcement of the two-hour parking limit has been inconsistent. He said his department has been focusing mainly on Main Street and State Street enforcement, and that getting to meters elsewhere in town is a challenge because of staffing levels.
“Most of the vehicles are moving within that two-hour period, but again — how to effectively, consistently enforce that is a challenge,” he said.
One solution may be the smart meters. Casey said some smart meters can be equipped with a piece that is installed into the pavement of the parking space that can tell when someone has been in a spot for longer than two hours. There are also meters that will take the picture of a vehicle parked in a spot longer than it should. He said whoever is monitoring parking in the city can then use an iPad to see every parking space that’s currently being used illegally.
As for the smart meter study, Facos said he will be in contact with Barre City Police Chief Tim Bombardier. According to Facos, Barre may be looking into smart meters as well.
“Barre City is rapidly experiencing what we’ve known for a long time, as far as parking pressure,” Facos said.
The council was also presented with proposed parking permit increases by the committee. The proposal calls for permits to the lot at 60 State Street to be raised from $50 to $100 per month. Other monthly increases include the Blanchard Court lot from $50 to $100, the North Branch lot from $70 to $100, the Vermont League of Cities and Towns lot from $40 to $70 and Stone Cutter’s Way from $41.67 to $60.
Committee member Brian Cain said the rate increases were just a proposal for now and the committee wasn’t looking for the council to approve them Wednesday, but rather at some point in the near future.
The council did move to designate two more spots for tour buses during foliage season. In addition to spots in front of the Unitarian Church on Main Street and at the west end of the Statehouse on State Street, buses will now be parking in front of the Greyhound Bus spot in front of City Hall — temporarily taking away two parking spots from the general public — and at the corner of State and Taylor streets.
Councilors also decided to put language on the signs indicating tour bus parking that the buses are not allowed to idle. A sign saying the Carr Lot will be open for public parking during the weekends in foliage season was also approved.