In the months that I have now spent researching parking in Amherst I have developed a list of twelve recommendations. The premise of this list is that happy customers in the downtown business district make more money for Amherst than can be collected in parking fines. The town should provide parking as a public service, like roadways and traffic lights, and not charge for the use of this resource as a short-term answer to filling town budget gaps. Amherst Parking Management exists to best facilitate the relationship between businesses and customers, and any other use of this town staff is abusive to everyone involved.
1) When there is no need for parking management in Amherst, there should be none. A parking calendar needs to be created to coincide with the University academic and housing calendars to determine what dates and what times of day parking management is needed. Parking meters should be covered when the UMass students are gone and parking is plentiful, during the summer, intercession, and spring break, when the strain on downtown parking is lessened. If we cover parking meters during the winter holiday season to promote business in Amherst, why wouldn’t we want to promote business the rest of the year?
2) The town of Amherst needs to maintain a permanent Parking Committee. This committee will respond to the continuing needs of Amherst businesses, promote the continuing development of new parking spaces, and serve as a point of contact with the University. One function of this committee will be to protect the long-term interests of businesses from short-sited parking fine fundraising. Another function of this committee will be to champion the development of new parking spaces and structures, especially important with the development of the renovated Amherst Cinema. And most important, the Amherst parking committee will coordinate Amherst-wide parking policies between the town and the University.
3) More parking spaces need to be created. Each parking space in the town center is worth many thousands of dollars each year to local businesses, and so is worth thousands of dollars in revenue to the town. Jonathan Tucker, Amherst’s Planning Director said, “Parking is like oxygen for businesses.” Amherst has built and paid for one parking structure, but this has not been enough; as long as parking deficits still exist they will continue to throttle the growth of business in town. For businesses in the Amherst town center to compete with the nearby shopping malls, Amherst must lobby on a state level for continued investment in updated infrastructure.
4) Parking management hours in Amherst should be selected to optimize business. Currently, parking regulations are enforced until 6:00pm or 8:00pm even though most businesses close earlier than this. One purpose of parking management is to prevent UMass students from monopolizing downtown parking spaces during the day, but since most classes begin by 3:00pm, parking management should end by this hour to promote businesses that are open until 5:00pm or 6:00pm. An ongoing parking study to evaluate optimized parking management hours can now be implemented cost effectively by using digital video technology.
5) For the safety of bicyclists and the optimization of road usage, primary bike routes should be selected away from the town center. It is not good judgment to intentionally route bicycle commuters through the highest traffic and most dangerous intersection in Amherst. Since most riders commute from the rail trail to the University, the existing routes that don’t pass through the town center should be publicized. For riders doing business in town, paths should be mapped, around and leading up to the town center, and commuting through the main intersection should be discouraged. Bike routes should be kept open, but excessive ticketing for blocking these lanes should be avoided, as this reduces motorist tolerance for these most vulnerable of roadway users.
6) Residents displaying Amherst Transfer Station stickers should have less restrictive parking enforcement. Since Transfer Station stickers are generally issued to those involved in property maintenance, vehicles displaying this sticker should be given preferential treatment, contrasted with students who frequently abuse downtown parking. Permanent Amherst residents should be given more latitude regarding how they choose to allocate the resources of their town, including how they choose to utilize parking spaces in the downtown business district. There exist parking meters that allow free time past the end of the paid minutes; not ticketing Transfer Station marked cars during these free minutes is an example of applying this preferential treatment, as would ending meter enforcement earlier in the day.
7) We in Amherst need to establish a clear commitment to pro-business parking policies. As reported on the front page of the Amherst Bulletin, increased taxes are being disproportionately weighted to residences instead of businesses, but we are then working against ourselves when we drive customers away from the town center by using parking enforcement for town fundraising. It is a standard dictum of retail sales that the longer a customer stays in the store the more likely they are to spend money. We want to give each Amherst customer as much time as we can to comfortably shop, while at the same time allowing other customers access to these same resources. In the long run this will benefit the town of Amherst more than the collection of additional parking fines.
8) Parking fines should be chosen to serve their intended purposes. Meter fines need to be kept ahead of UMass parking rates to reduce the pressure put on downtown parking by students avoiding on-campus parking fees. Currently the cost of parking on Campus is $10.00 now coinciding with a fine for parking in the town center. In cooperation with the University, Town parking fees and fines need to be brought into alignment to prompt students to park on campus. In contrast, it is not in the interests of bicyclists for a motorist to be ticketed $50.00 for standing in a bicycle lane, when it is easy for the cyclists to ride around them. Similarly, handicapped parking space fines of $200.00 are exploitive of this population, not supportive. Respective groups need to be considered and consulted to help determine what fines serve their intended populations.
Situations in which Tickets Should Be Forgiven:
9) Businesses need to be given the ability to take back their customers’ tickets. No business owners that I have spoken with think that ticketing their customers is good for business. As modeled by other parking systems, parking tickets can serve as coupons for customers to return to businesses, rather than fines to make customers uncomfortable shopping in the business district. My receptionist used to keep track of when customers put their money in the meters, and would send them out when their time was up. These people rarely came back to my office. It is just easier for customers to do business where they won’t risk getting ticketed. Parking should be a resource for business, not a limitation.
10) Parking management personnel need to be given the ability to take back tickets in the field. If one arrives at one’s car to find it being ticketed, or just having been ticketed, the enforcement official should be given the discretionary ability to take back the ticket just issued. If the purpose of parking enforcement is to keep customer traffic moving in the business district, what is served by fining people as they are leaving? Town parking enforcement employees should be ambassadors of good will to business patrons, not relentless town employees mandated to perform compassionless acts. The current sophistication of this management is that of a twelve year old, with the force of law. The people whom these ordinances are intended to serve must be considered.
11) Amherst property owners should be forgiven three tickets per year at the Central Records desk in the town hall. Given the current parking deficit in Amherst it is inevitable that even law-abiding citizens, with every intent of upholding the law, will still be ticketed. Since the intent of parking enforcement is to manage a limited resource, not to penalize the general population, tickets issued to property owners should be seen as a mistake and taken back upon request. This would enforce the spirit, and not just the letter, of the law.
12) An intermediate appeal process needs to be established for parking tickets. Once one receives a parking ticket, the only option for appeal is to speak with Claire McGinnis in the Amherst parking office, on one of the two days a month that she hears appeals. The long line for appeal can take hours to get through, and when one does get to speak with her, she is more interested in defending the actions of her ticketing staff than judging the conditions surrounding a particular ticket. She knows that beyond her decision, the next and only level of appeal is to file a civil action against the town of Amherst in Superior court. The filing fee for this civil action to contest a parking ticket is $275.00, and if one wins the action one can then only recover the $10.00 fine. There needs to be an intermediate parking ticket appeal process available to Amherst residents.