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Newark planning to convert downtown lots to metered parking

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Parking kiosk

Drivers will pay for parking by typing in their license plate number at kiosks like this.

City council will take a final vote Monday on a plan to convert the downtown municipal parking lots to metered parking.

Under the plan, the parking gates will be removed, and the lots will instead be controlled by several multi-space parking meters. Upon parking in the lot, drivers will input their license plate number into an electronic kiosk and submit payment.

Under the current system, drivers park for as long as they wish and pay as they leave. However, under the new plan, they will have to pay in advance for the time they think they will use, and those who return to their car late will be fined, just like at an on-street parking meter. No refunds will be offered for drivers who leave early.

City employees will enforce the parking by driving around the lots in vehicles mounted with automatic license plate readers. In order for the license plate readers to work, drivers will be prohibited from backing into parking spaces. Those who do will be fined $20.

Newark officials denied an interview request, and Parking Supervisor Courtney Mulvanity would only provide information about the plan via emailed statements filtered through the city’s public information officer.

“The city understands that any change to any system that people have previously used is going to be a minor annoyance. People are habitual, but we wouldn’t make the change if we didn’t believe the system we are moving to is a move in right direction,” Mulvanity wrote. “Admittedly, the new style of payment will take some getting used to for someone who parks daily, but the industry and nearby parking entities have been moving in this direction for some time due to its numerous benefits.”

The University of Delaware has converted its garages to a similar system over the last few years.

The changes in the downtown lots are part of a broader parking plan that will also add new spaces on several side streets – including Haines Street, Lovett Avenue, Center Street and North Chapel Street – and install meters in parking lots that are currently used for monthly permit parking. The new parking is intended to offset spaces lost during the Main Street construction and due to the planned Lang Development Group hotel.

Because the city is planning to use the new multi-space meters for the new parking areas, it makes sense to move toward that system for the existing parking areas as well, according to Mulvanity.

Over the next year, the existing one-space meters on Main Street will be replaced, and the lots will be converted to the metered system.

“Moving to a single, unified parking system for municipal parking has major advantages in many areas,” Mulvanity wrote.

The new meters allow people to pay for parking – or add additional time – via a smartphone app. The system is tied together, so people can add time to their meter using any of the kiosks, not just the one nearest their vehicle.

“The multi-space idea was directly in response to requests from patrons, business owners, management, and city council to look at ‘pay-by-phone’ as a payment option for customers,” Mulvanity wrote. “This payment style allows for parking accounts and recordkeeping for those that use our parking lots the most. It allows pre-payment to a ‘parking wallet,’ where someone can use a single card or even a single transaction, to pay for future parking.”

The new meters also solve the dilemma of Lot #3, which will be split in two by the construction of the Lang hotel. Otherwise, officials would have to build a new parking booth at the new entrance to the western half of the lot.

The new system, including kiosks for Main Street, the side streets and the lots, will cost approximately $500,000, but officials expect to recoup those costs within two years.

The system will save $200,000 per year in personnel costs, and putting meters on the side streets will generate new revenue.

The city’s parking lot attendants have been informed their positions will be eliminated, but they will be given an opportunity to apply for other jobs in city government.

Mulvanity added that the city does not have an estimate for how much additional fine revenue will be collected in the lots.

“Unfortunately, there are too many variables to answer a question like this,” he wrote.

City council has already approved the purchase of the kiosks and will vote Monday on several ordinance changes needed for the plan to move forward. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at city hall, 220 S. Main St.

If approved, rollout of the new meters will begin this month, with the lots scheduled to be converted next year.

City officials have not responded to questions regarding the future of the parking lots’ grace period, which currently allows drivers to park for free for the first 10 minutes.

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