Salem Mayor writes letter regarding parking meters
Honorable Salem City Council
Salem City Hall
Salem, Massachusetts 01970
Gentlemen of the City Council:
I am reaching out to you in connection with the recent installation of smart meters and parking sensors in downtown. As you know, smart meters bring state of the art technology to our on street parking options and are part of the recently approved comprehensive parking plan that is designed to enhance downtown parking options in Salem, in particular our goal of achieving 15% availability of on street parking spaces.
As part of that plan, we have installed 135 new smart meters downtown over the last several months, which is less than one quarter of the total parking meters in the city. These new smart meters offer the convenience of using a credit or debit card to pay for parking.
In addition to the convenience of not having to walk around with a stack of quarters, smart meters also enable us to collect actual usage data on how often and for how long certain parking spaces are utilized. This information is important and will serve as a guide to help us in our planning and review of current and future parking regulations for our downtown. In addition, they also prevent all day meter feeding, which contributes to our goal of having convenient on street spaces turnover and be more available for patrons and others shopping downtown.
While convenient, smart meters are also expensive. On top of the initial capital costs, there are credit card fees assessed to the city for each and every transaction, as well as monthly per-unit fees charged for gateway/wireless data and system management for the smart meters themselves. These capital costs and these on-going charges are far greater than the costs required to maintain a traditional coin-only parking meter. With that in mind, the smart meters were programmed reset to zero anytime a space is vacated and a new vehicle would not get the benefit of time that may be remaining at a smart meter.
I recognize that for many people, the inability to use carryover time or take advantage of time left on a smart meter may seem like an unwelcome message to downtown patrons. In addition, others in Salem like the “pay it forward” aspect of the old meters, meaning folks like being able to leave behind a few minutes for the next motorist. I’m not surprised, given the strong sense of community spirit in Salem. Having the ability to use a few minutes left over from the last vehicle is also helpful for people who just need to park and run into a business for a few minutes to drop something off or pick something up. With that in mind, I’ve directed our Parking Department to adjust the reset time to 30 minutes on all smart meters in our City. This means when a car leaves a space with a sensor, the meter will re-set to 30 minutes automatically, in effect providing a ½ hour of free parking in these 135 downtown parking spaces regardless of whether there was time left on the meter or not. This will enable anyone making a quick trip downtown to use a parking space at a smart meter for free. While this may cause a small reduction in revenues, it will be far more welcoming to patrons and stay true to our goal of maintaining parking availability by supporting short term parking use at convenient, on street spaces.
Salem has invested considerable time, energy, and money to make it convenient and enjoyable to visit, shop, and dine in our downtown. I’m excited by the prospects for the new development proposed on Riley Plaza, the growing push for public art, the expansion of the PEM, recent completed upgrades to the Essex Street Pedestrian Mall and the continued vibrancy of restaurants and shops downtown.
Very truly yours,