Montclair & Broken Parking Meters Have Had A Long, Complicated Relationship

One of hundreds of broken parking meters in Montclair.

Update: Scroll down to see statement on parking meters from Montclair Council.

If you want a Montclair-centric Halloween costume this year, you could go as a broken parking meter.

Montclair’s got broken meters to spare — hundreds of non-working meters at parking spaces all around town.

The issue of what to do about broken meters as well as whether or not to fine people for parking in the spaces when they are unable to pay was discussed Tuesday at a Montclair Council meeting.

“​​It is simply unconscionable to many of us that we fine someone for parking at a broken parking meter,” said Councilor at Large Peter Yacobellis who advocated for dropping the fines for parking at broken meters and extending holiday free parking, starting as early as November 1 and running through the holiday season.

Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager offered a different suggestion, after speaking with the township’s Parking authority and town manager’s office. Schlager learned that parking lots with kiosks are working well and that additional kiosks could be added to surface lots by the end of the month. This would free up some 120 working meter “heads” that could be swapped for the broken meters not currently working.

Schlager also said 42 Watchung Plaza meters could be switched over to a kiosk system as a pilot; Councilor at Large Bob Russo asked if the same pilot could be implemented in the South End shopping district.

Déjà vu all over again

Broken parking meters are not a new Montclair problem. In 2007, when there was an epidemic of broken meters, there was a workaround to avoid paying the ticket. Then there were some new meters in 2012 (with a new price), By 2015, broken meters were at an all time high, with Montclair Mayor Robert Jackson declaring that the township’s then 1,700 meters had to be replaced immediately – with no further delay. In 2016, it approved 545 solar–powered parking meters. Changing technology, including meters that were operating on a 2G communication-based system and can’t connect to today’s 4G or 5G is one reason some meters don’t work. In some cases, vandalism is the cause, but it appears to be minimal.

The Township expects people parking at broken meters to use the ParkMobile app and has posted stickers on all meters, warning motorists to pay even at broken meters or risk a ticket. Using the app can be time consuming for people trying to get to an appointment and isn’t a viable option for people without smart phones.

Montclair Council issued a statement Wednesday afternoon regarding the parking meter situation:

Montclair, NJ – Montclair Township Councilors held an in-depth discussion at the October 19 council meeting about operational plans to resolve the pressing issue of the many non-functioning parking meters throughout town. Council determined, based on information and recommendations provided by the Parking Utility and township management, that the problem will be successfully addressed by implementing the following:

The Parking Utility has begun removing the 120 individual meters in the Valley Road, Maple Plaza, and Grove Street surface lots and will replace them with pay station kiosks – statistics show that kiosks traditionally suffer less vandalism than individual meters. The kiosks will allow patrons to pay by credit card, coins, and mobile app. The 120 meter heads that will be removed from the individual meters will be used to replace non-functioning meters throughout town.

Moving forward, individual meters in the remaining surface lots will be removed and replaced with pay station kiosks. By removing these meters from all surface lots, the Parking Utility will gain up to 500 meter heads in total, which will be used to replace non-functioning meters.

Individual meters will also be removed and replaced with pay station kiosks in Watchung Plaza and the South End Business District.

The Parking Utility leadership team is currently pricing out new, more efficient, and technology adaptable meters from companies in the marketplace. Many of the Township’s meters stopped functioning when the internet service provider upgraded its broadband cellular network, affecting Township meters using older technology.

Separately, the Council also took action to review all ordinances to ensure excessive penalties are removed with regard to serving time in jail.

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  1. There is little doubt we have a spike in the number of broken meters.

    The Parking Utility says we are averaging about 11% of our 1,500 meters spaces, or 160/day out of service. Councilor Yacobellis surveyed a couple of busy downtown on-street locations and found up to 50% broken. Walnut & Watchung on-street locations were mentioned as areas with similar levels of broken meters. My attempt to reconcile these discrepancies leads me to believe that certain geographic areas are more prone to their meters breaking. Are we replacing the bad meters in these areas with refurbished meters that just break down again?

    Of our 1,500 meters, about half are in our surface lots and the balance are on-street spaces. I have to infer the on-street meters are breaking at substantially higher rate. Maybe they are more prone to dropping their internet connections.

    When we go into Free Holiday Meter Parking mode for a month, we forego $40,000 in average monthly revenue in pre-COVID times. That means the average meter brought in a $1/day. That would suggest that either a lot of meter spaces were going unused or people were not paying before COVID. Maybe we should just remove the lowest performing revenue meters? They can’t be cost-effective.

    I like the idea of migrating our numerous surface lots pay stations and using the leftover, working meters for on-street locations. I also think we need to incent more people to come around to ParkMobile app – for convenience alone. All these prime spaces with broken meters are available to ParkMobile users. A user could drive right up & park in from of the Post Office or The Wellmont!

    Anyway, all very complicated and not helpful there is a dearth of data and analytics to make better informed choices. Winging it works for now, I guess. Let’s try it and see what sticks.

  2. And let’s not forget all the deck parking downtown – anywhere from 1,800 hourly spaces to infinity (if we count the magical Orange Road Parking Deck). We will have North of 2,000 hourly spaces by January when the Midtown Deck opens. Depending on the week, the BID membership says there is either not enough parking or there is a large excess capacity of hourly parking. Now, I know we have broken meters all over town, but maybe we should get a better handle on where and why it is way above the historical averages.

    PS: maybe we can educate the public on the parking fee difference between using coins and ParkMobile. I would think they are similar, but just the same, it wouldn’t hurt.

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