New Hope’s new electronic parking system is drawing heat from shop and restaurant owners in town who say their customers are confused and complaining. And they fear even more negative reaction from visitors down the road during the warmer and busier season.
Parking meters, the traditional nemesis of New Hope visitors, were finally eliminated on Dec. 15, 2017, and in their place on Jan. 2 were 22 new “multi-space, pay-by-plate” electronic kiosks dispersed throughout the borough.
The borough is taking on the expense because it believes the system will allow them to better manage parking, including the ability to vary pricing in the future by zone for more control over usage patterns at peak hours and to generate additional revenue.
“We wanted to make parking as easy as possible so that people can come and just have fun,” explained New Hope Borough Council Member Laurie McHugh in a December interview.
But motorists need to remember their license plate number on their way to the kiosk, if it’s not already memorized. That’s a problem for some, but one that was anticipated.
What may not have been anticipated was the extent of the confusion on the part of many visitors, who park their vehicle, exit, and stare blankly about looking for parking meters that are no longer there. Signs telling them to look for kiosks are small and posted at waist height on sawed-off meter poles, although larger signage is reportedly on the way. Worse yet, kiosks are neither numerous nor readily visible, say members of New Hope’s business community.
“We local businesses did not have any say in the decision on these kiosks,” observed Greg Gauthier, owner of the Village Toy Shoppe at 19 N. Main St. “Personally I thought Mayor Keller’s concerns were very appropriate, and the fact that the [borough council] vote was 4 to 3 would tell me that maybe the decision should not have been rushed. I would like to hear the rationale from counsel members Kingsley, Gering and McHugh and also about how involved they have been in the implementation process.”
New Hope Mayor Keller holds a voting seat on New Hope’s borough council, and was critical of the cost of the kiosk plan as it emerged.
“I hate to be ‘Debbie Downer’ here, but I have a lot of questions that aren’t answered yet,” said Keller at a Feb 21, 2017 council meeting, where he questioned whether visitors might falsely believe their purchased kiosk time would be redeemable at New Hope’s numerous private lots.
“You have the ability to pay for six hours, and I could be on South Main for two hours, and decide to drive over to Triumph Brewery in George Michael’s Union Square, because I’ve still got four hours left. Who pays George Michael?”
“It’s a totally different system, so once they go into to his private parking lot, they’re obligated to pay whatever he has there,” explained Council Member Connie Gering. “We’ll need to educate them.”
Gering is vice president of council, and along with Alison Kingsley and Laurie McHugh, spearheaded the development and implementation of the new parking system.
Out on the streets of New Hope, some business folks are saying that education was inadequate, as is signage explaining the change and how to use the new system and locate kiosks.
“How unbelievably disappointing,” said one shop owner of the kiosks on social media. “Two customers came in with tickets on their cars. No signs saying ‘go pay at the kiosk.’ Perhaps a slow roll out with notices on cars would have been a good way to go and signs notifying people. When will signs go up to notify people to walk to the end of Main Street to find a kiosk? Will there be more kiosks?”
Several business owners wondered why kiosks weren’t more plentiful and visible, noting that much of the length of busy South Main Street seems devoid of the machines, and important parking areas like Waterloo Street have none at all. Others believe the devices should be made more visible by adding flags or lights.
“I haven’t heard much griping from customers,” said one North Main Street business owner. “That’s because there haven’t been any customers lately.”
“I was able to locate a machine quickly,” said one visitor Monday who had just parked his car. “But I only wanted one hour of time, and the kiosk wouldn’t give me change — it just gave me extra time. Also, the touch screen wasn’t responsive.”
“As with any change, it takes time,” said New Hope Chamber of Commerce President Gregg Zollo. “We’ll be canvassing businesses to assess the impact if any and listen to their concerns.”
Borough spokespeople were not immediately available.