Princeton’s old parking meters

The court of public opinion has been convened in the matter of the new parking meters on Princeton streets. The Princeton Merchants Association has created a poll for its members, and the public is weighing in via letters to the editor and online posts. We think we can guess the outcome — the new meters will be about as popular as a trip to the dentist.

The Merchants survey asked the organization’s retail members to rate how their customers feel about parking; how their employees view the new system; whether or not they feel parking fees are reasonable; and, in essence, how their volume of business has been since the new system was implemented.

The letters to the editor were sometimes amusing in their vitriol and almost always negative. “Being a merchant is difficult. Being a merchant in Princeton is extra difficult. Town Council and the mayor’s office can’t possibly spend any time in town,” wrote Lou Valente of Hunter Road. “The new parking debacle is an affront to our merchants and citizens. It’s frightening that our leadership made significant investments in parking studies, focus groups, and questionnaires and then proceeded with the poorest implementation that I could imagine. We have a different parking system, not a state-of-the-art parking system. Let me count the ways:”

He proceeded to list the loss of the 10-minute grace period, increased rates, inability to get used time back, and the loss of parking spaces at crosswalks and loading zones, among other complaints. “Wake up,” he concluded. “It’s not a success, it’s a failure. Talk to us please.”

Online at Planet Princeton we saw 31 comments as this issue of the Echo was going to press. One was a point of information regarding state regulation concerning spaces at crosswalks and loading zones; all the others were negative. Most of them blamed mayor and council for the debacle.

The good news for mayor and council is that the uproar was predicted by the former business development director in Asbury Park, which went through a similar conversion, endured similar criticism, and then was rewarded with millions o f dollars a year in extra revenue when people finally got used to the new system.

Our own very limited focus group, Echo staffers and their significant others, also weighed in. One technology-challenged participant reported initial frustration when he first used a pay station, but found that he mastered it perfectly by the second encounter — a considerably better experience than he had at the automatic check-out kiosks at CVS. Others in the Echo family easily adapted but were frustrated on several occasions when they discovered the individual meter heads jammed with coins.

And that’s the bad news. Old fashioned coins are used so frequently, we suspect, because the new fangled smartphone app is accompanied by a 35 cent fee every time you use. No one wants to go to the dentist and no one wants to pay a penny for an online service that they think should be free.

This article was originally published in the January 2019 Princeton Echo.