NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The New Brunswick Parking Authority (NBPA) is requesting that the City Council increase the rates at most of the city's 1,000 parking meters, a move that would bring in $300,000 to the NBPA.
Though they are already among the highest in New Jersey, the increased rates would make it more expensive to park at New Brunswick's meters than at those in the state's largest cities.
Under the new rates, a quarter would buy just 10 minutes of parking. Two years earlier, that same quarter was good for 15 minutes at most of the meters in downtown and for 30 minutes at many others.
For the first time in history, the city will also increase the parking rate if parkers stay in the same spot longer than two hours. Many of the city's meters will still allow for up to eight hours of parking, but it will cost $30 to stay that long.
In addition to the across the board rate hike, which would increase the rates to $1.50 per hour, the proposed ordinance states that the initial rate would only be good for the first two hours someone parks at a meter in downtown or near the Rutgers campus.
City officials have said the rate hike comes in response to concerns from unnamed merchants who were concerned about long-term parkers taking up meters typically used by customers.
"Merchants have expressed concern about these issues and we want a vibrant downtown," said City Councilwoman Betsy Garlatti, whose husband Louis Garlatti serves on the NBPA Board of Commissioners.
The City Council is expected to approve the rate hike at its meeting scheduled for August 19 at 5:30pm in the Council's Chambers inside City Hall at 78 Bayard Street. Members of the public can speak and ask questions about the proposed increase prior to the final vote.
NBPA Executive Director Mitch Karon downplayed the increase at the August 5 City Council meeting, saying, "These rates are normal rates throughout the state of New Jersey and it's just, you know, something that we feel we should do."
"Can you tell me cities in New Jersey that charge $1.50 an hour for parking," asked this reporter.
"I don't recall the exact cities. I'd have to get back to you on that," said Karon.
Karon later responded that the authority had done a survey of different municipalities, but backed off his original statement about the $1.50 rate being "normal."
"I probably misspoke when I said it's common," said Karon.
The proposed rates are actually in line with those seen in some parts of Manhattan, but far from "normal" by New Jersey standards.
In Newark, the state's largest city, or in Trenton, the state's capital, a quarter can still buy 15 minutes of parking at any meter citywide.
The same is true in bustling downtowns like those found in Hoboken, Paterson, Princeton, Red Bank, and many other communities.
The City of Elizabeth, the county seat of Union County, increased their rates to $1.5o per hour on May 1, even though their website still lists a lower rate.
Besides Elizabeth, only a handful of Jersey Shore communities appear to have meter parking rates as high or higher than the one proposed for New Brunswick.
In Long Branch, the city charges $1 an hour Monday through Thursday, and $2 an hour on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
In Asbury Park, Ocean Avenue parking meters cost $2 an hour, but everywhere else the rate is $1 an hour.
Meanwhile, most urban areas have lower rates, and none use progressively increasing rates.
New Brunswick's meter rates are already more than double those in other Middlesex County municipalities, and five times as high as they are in Somerville, the county seat of Somerset County.
In Perth Amboy, that same quarter goes even further, buying 30 or 40 minutes, depending on the area. In Metuchen, it buys a half-hour but the first ten minutes are free.
According to city officials, the strategy is intended to keep spaces available to short-term parkers rather than workers, who often "feed the meter" to stay for longer periods of time.
"We're trying to address the problem of people staying in parking spaces in high-demand areas," said Garlatti.
The areas that will not be affected by the so-called "progressive" pricing include Suydam, Morris, Handy, French, and George Streets, as well as Livingston, Joyce Kilmer, and Jersey Avenues, and Bishop Place.
Those areas will still see an increase of the flat rate, but won't have increasing rates because meters are already have a time limit of one, two, or four hours.
"I think the Parking Authority has done an excellent job at identifying the areas where we have this issue and let the other areas… stay as a traditional parking rate," Garlatti said.
"This is, if you will, a pilot and we'll see how it works. It's been effective in other areas," said Garlatti, without naming an example.
"We think it's time to be modern and current with our parking policies to reflect parking demand in New Brunswick."
Karon said New Brunswick would be the first New Jersey municipality to implement progressive pricing.
If approved, a three-hour stop at a meter would cost $5, four hours would cost $8, and five hours would cost $12.
"It keeps going up and up and up, and if you want spend 8 hours it's going to cost you $30," said Karon.
Karon said the changes were meant to discourage long-term parking at meters, and shift those cars into the city's nine parking garages.
"There's a number of people who use these meters to park there all day and they constantly feed the meter," said Karon.
"We're trying to drive people into the parking deck… creating less traffic on the streets," said Council President Kevin Egan, who previously served on the NBPA Board of Commissioners.
"Basically… we're telling you that, 'If you want to spend all day at these meters, it's going to be very expensive,' and that we prefer you come to our garages," said Karon. "It would be cheaper that way."
Karon said the change would hopefully result in less people "circling around" for parking, and keep meters open for short-term parkers.
"Would this stop anybody from feeding the meter still?" this reporter asked.
"Probably not," replied Karon.
As we reported previously, the NBPA was responsible for nearly a quarter billion dollars in city-guaranteed debt.