By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — City Councilor William Macek wants the city to consider removing downtown’s metered parking kiosks and go to a system in which paid spaces would be available only to people with permits.
He said getting rid of the kiosks and going exclusively to permit parking would allow the city to eventually get rid of the private company that is charging the city $200,000 per year to maintain the kiosks and run the program. The city’s three-year contract with that company, SP Plus Municipal Services, expires in about 18 months, city officials said.
Paid parking, which began in August 2012, generated $373,000 in its first year — $212,000 from permit sales and $161,000 from meters, according to city officials.
Macek said many downtown merchants believe the kiosks are costing them business and money. Visitors don’t like them either, he said.
“People don’t like the kiosks,” Macek said. “I have heard people in restaurants say they have to get up and leave because the meter was about to run out. It (the paid parking program) has alleviated parking problems downtown, but maybe there’s a better way to do it.”
In getting rid of kiosks, Macek said the city could also consider going back to free short-term street parking with strictly enforced time limits. Permit parking would remain largely in downtown lots, he said.
Macek made his comments in response to a proposal by Public Works Director Michael Stankovich and the city’s Parking Commission to add a few more permit spaces and free spaces in the business district.
The council approved the request to convert five spaces in the Washington and Wingate streets lot and five spaces in the Essex and Locust streets lot from hourly meter spaces to multi-use spaces, which are open to people with a parking permit or who use the meter.
Stankovich said the changes are in response to complaints from business owners that there are not enough permit spaces for their employees.
The council also approved Stankovich’s request that seven spaces in the Howe Street parking lot be converted from hourly pay spaces to free spaces where parking will be permitted for a maximum of 15 minutes. The lot is near Haverhill Beef company and the new free spaces are for customers of retail stores in the area, Stankovich said. Some councilors said free parking in those spaces should be allowed for up to 30 minutes, but they agreed 15 minutes is a good start.
The council approved the changes 6 to 0, with Councilors Michael McGonagle, Melinda Barrett and Thomas Sullivan abstaining because they either own a business or work downtown.
In approving the changes, the council agreed that it’s Administration and Finance Committee will formally review the paid parking program’s finances as well as Macek’s idea to get rid of meters and kiosks.
“It makes sense to look at this now, before the contract expires, and see if it makes sense to get rid of the kiosks and sell permits only and run the program ourselves,” Macek said.
Stankovich warned that such a major change to the program could have “huge ramifications” to the whole system, which includes a mix of metered kiosk spaces, permit spaces and multi-use spaces where drivers can pay by the hour or with a permit.
The paid parking program is designed to dissuade long-term parking by people such as commuters who ride the train and those who live and work downtown from parking for hours at a time in the heart of the business district. Instead, the city wants them to park on peripheral roadways such as Bailey Boulevard where parking is free. The idea is this will open up pay spaces near restaurants and other businesses for customers and other short-term visitors to come and go quickly and conveniently.
The plan has a variety of rules governing on-street parking and the use of spaces in parking garages and lots. On weekdays, drivers must pay 50 cents per hour from 3 to 8 p.m. to park on Washington, Essex, Granite and Wingate streets. Street parking is free from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., but is limited to two hours. Drivers pay 50 cents per hour to park in city lots, the same as on-street parking.
Revenue from the program, after the company hired to run it is paid, is used to pay for maintenance, cleaning and beautification enhancements downtown, such as flowers, plants and benches, Stankovich said.
Stankovich told councilors last night that he is developing a survey about the parking program that he expects to mail in a month or so to people who live or own a business downtown.