Some around town are wondering why, when exiting a municipal parking lot in the early morning or evening, they're being charged for parking during times they believed were free.
In April, the common council looked at rate and time changes as part of its annual budget review process. They approved municipal lot parking fee times — increasing them from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. — and retaining the first-hour-free rule, according to Middletown Parking Director Geen Thazhampallath.
Those additional four hours at all of Middletown's parking lots downtown are expected to bring in $10,000 more revenue for the city, which will be reinvested into parking technology.
"I'm sure it will rankle some," Thazhampallath says, "but it was the smaller of the recommendations that I made."
"As is annually done, the city reviews all operational and revenue generation points to consider the right course of action," Thazhampallath says. "We made several proposals and the council felt the time change was the right course."
He had asked the council to increase the rate and to reduce or get rid of the one-hour free rule.
"What I am doing now is thinking about it from the consumer's point of view. What tools would really benefit citizens," he says. He's considering technology like a smartphone app that would allow people to get a text message when the paid time was about to expire at the meter and being able to pay for more time on the cell phone with a credit card.
As for street meters, Thazhampallath says his department is piloting the 10-minute free concept by testing the technology. Staff are closely monitoring the system to make sure the 10-minute free portion works, but until it's flawless, Thazhampallath says, the city won't formally announce its return.
In December 2012, mechanical failure in the computerized parking system that was installed during the summer of 2011 in Middletown forced the city to suspend the 10-minute grace period. Prior to that some meters would randomly clear out time that drivers had paid for, Thazhampallath says. "People were legitimately getting gypped."
To add insult to injury, he says, sometimes people, who can pay for up to a three-hour timeframe, would find their credit zeroed out, and the meter monitor would come by, see the "violation," and write up a $10 ticket.
IPS Group, of San Diego, took responsibility, Thazhampallath says, for the design defect.
To fix the problem, the vendor had to take out every one of the 288 hockey puck-size under-pavement sensor — a two-week process. The new technology did away with paid minutes that could be left over from the previous person, something the first 10 minutes free idea was an attempt to ameliorate.
Many cities don't offer free parking at all, Thazhampallath says. "We're not there yet but there are pressures that lead us that way."