Amherst considering parking technology

To make downtown more shopper friendly, the town is proposing a new parking improvement plan that will include new parking machines and the option to buy more time via cell phone.
Town Manager John P. Musante presented the town parking system improvement plan to the Select Board last week and the board is expected to vote on the proposal at its meeting Monday night.

The town plans to buy new machines that allow motorists to pay by space and not have to return to their vehicle to display a receipt. The University of Massachusetts has such a system near its visitor center.

The machines would also allow payment by credit or debit card.

The system would also allow the town to change the rates, time limits and parking hours for special events.

The plan is to install new machines at the Boltwood Walk Parking Garage, the town portion of the CVS lot, Amity Street and Town Hall lots this spring and the Main and Spring Street lots next year.

The third phase would add the machines to the Pray Street lot and possibly street meters.

The initial phase would cost $94,000, which would include the machines and poles with space markers, among other costs. The expense is included in a capital budget funded by the transportation fund, Musante said. The cost of the new systems is about $37,000 annually because of credit card transaction fees, plus secure network fees.

Some of these costs would be offset with an increase in parking rates. Parking fees and all lots would remain the same - 50 cents per hour - and fees at all meters would increase from 40 to 50 cents an hour, which should bring in an additional $60,000 a year. Also, the proposal would increase the reserved space lease rate at the parking garage from $650 to $750 per year.

Musante sees the proposals "making downtown more attractive, easier to park in." Also, he said, the new system reduces maintenance costs.

The system "is more customer friendly." Paying by credit card, he said, "is more convenient."

Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tony A. Maroulis said the plan "is going a long way to get parking right in town." He said the new system "improves the visitor experience" and "makes sense of parking, which has long perplexed" shopkeepers.

The two-week delay in voting allows Select Board members time to review the proposal and the chance for people to come to the next meeting if they have concerns.
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