Aldermen scrutinize parking meters

New “smart” parking meters have appeared around town, but in light of the city’s budget woes, aldermen are scrutinizing whether they are a necessary expense.

At a Board of Aldermen finance committee meeting Wednesday evening, Jim Travers, interim director of New Haven’s Transportation Department, asked for $550,000 to replace about 1,200 parking meters around the city with new, solar-powered digital meters. Aware of the current $8 million budget gap, none of the aldermen who spoke at the meeting were in absolute support of the proposal, and some questioned the accuracy of Travers’ cost-benefit analysis and the long-term usefulness of the devices.

Travers said the city has had 48 of the new parking meters on a trial basis since Jan. 11. Heavy snowfall since then has led to decreased parking revenue across the city, resulting in insufficient data to present to the committee.

“Introducing the parking meters would be accompanied by many outstanding benefits,” Travers said.

The parking meters provide feedback to a database viewed by the Transportation Department, he added, allowing the department to practice “dynamic” parking, which involves adjusting parking prices based on demand.

Travers said consumers will also be able to pay with a credit card, which is convenient for local merchants.

Ward Board of Alderman President Carl Goldfield said he could not understand how the accounting figures Travers had provided would add up, and raised concerns about the longevity of the new technologies in the meters, such as the ability to pay with a credit card.

“For a 20-year perspective, it just doesn’t make sense,” he said. “The way things are going, credit-card payment will be obsolete…and people might be paying with wands.”

The parking meters could be expanded with software updates in the future to allow payments by cell phone, Travers said.

But for all the bells and whistles of the proposed parking meters, aldermen were largely unimpressed by Travers’ presentation, questioning his cost-benefit analysis and the long-term benefits of the devices.

Each device retails for $495, though Travers said he was in negotiations to obtain a discounted price.

Goldfield said the committee needed to look at the long-term usefulness of all new proposals because of the city’s precarious budget position.

The $550,000 in funding would be raised with a 20-year bond, Travers said, though he added that he was amenable to reducing the time frame of the proposal.

Ward 5 alderman and finance committee member Jorge Perez grilled Travers on his cost-benefit analysis, which Perez pointed out did not properly account for revenue lost from reduced parking violations.

Perez went on to question Travers about the possible negative cash flow of the proposal, which included up to 25 percent in lost parking violation revenue as well as the installation and upkeep costs of the new devices.

While Travers promised to re-run his calculations and submit a revised cost-budget analysis at a future meeting, Perez said the difficulties in costings would be particularly scrutinized given New Haven’s budget shortfall.

The 90-day trial period for the meters ends in early April.

New “smart” parking meters have appeared around town, but in light of the city’s budget woes, aldermen are scrutinizing whether they are a necessary expense.

At a Board of Aldermen finance committee meeting Wednesday evening, Jim Travers, interim director of New Haven’s Transportation Department, asked for $550,000 to replace about 1,200 parking meters around the city with new, solar-powered digital meters. Aware of the current $8 million budget gap, none of the aldermen who spoke at the meeting were in absolute support of the proposal, and some questioned the accuracy of Travers’ cost-benefit analysis and the long-term usefulness of the devices.

Travers said the city has had 48 of the new parking meters on a trial basis since Jan. 11. Heavy snowfall since then has led to decreased parking revenue across the city, resulting in insufficient data to present to the committee.

“Introducing the parking meters would be accompanied by many outstanding benefits,” Travers said.

The parking meters provide feedback to a database viewed by the Transportation Department, he added, allowing the department to practice “dynamic” parking, which involves adjusting parking prices based on demand.

Travers said consumers will also be able to pay with a credit card, which is convenient for local merchants.

Ward Board of Alderman President Carl Goldfield said he could not understand how the accounting figures Travers had provided would add up, and raised concerns about the longevity of the new technologies in the meters, such as the ability to pay with a credit card.

“For a 20-year perspective, it just doesn’t make sense,” he said. “The way things are going, credit-card payment will be obsolete…and people might be paying with wands.”

The parking meters could be expanded with software updates in the future to allow payments by cell phone, Travers said.

But for all the bells and whistles of the proposed parking meters, aldermen were largely unimpressed by Travers’ presentation, questioning his cost-benefit analysis and the long-term benefits of the devices.

Each device retails for $495, though Travers said he was in negotiations to obtain a discounted price.

Goldfield said the committee needed to look at the long-term usefulness of all new proposals because of the city’s precarious budget position.

The $550,000 in funding would be raised with a 20-year bond, Travers said, though he added that he was amenable to reducing the time frame of the proposal.

Ward 5 alderman and finance committee member Jorge Perez grilled Travers on his cost-benefit analysis, which Perez pointed out did not properly account for revenue lost from reduced parking violations.

Perez went on to question Travers about the possible negative cash flow of the proposal, which included up to 25 percent in lost parking violation revenue as well as the installation and upkeep costs of the new devices.

While Travers promised to re-run his calculations and submit a revised cost-budget analysis at a future meeting, Perez said the difficulties in costings would be particularly scrutinized given New Haven’s budget shortfall.

The 90-day trial period for the meters ends in early April.

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