A proposed pay-by-cell phone option to alleviate Storrs Center parking issues was met with lukewarm reception from the Mansfield Town Council Monday night, as council members expressed concerns that the new system will be too complex and burdensome for Storrs Center visitors to use.
The proposed system, which uses the mobile app ParkMobile, would allow for Storrs Center visitors to park free for the first 30 minutes in a space, and then pay to extend the time in the space over the app, eliminating risk of a ticket, Mansfield Downtown Partnership executive director Cynthia van Zelm said.
Users would enter their parking code and license plate into the app to start a session, and then extend their session by up to two hours for $2.50. The system would apply to on-street parking and the Dog Lane two-hour lot, van Zelm said.
“It allows you to have flexibility and add time as you park,” van Zelm said. “There’s less anxiety about getting a ticket.”
The idea has been discussed by the Parking Steering Committee and the town for some time now, Town Manager Derrik Kennedy said. Several businesses have had issues with stringent enforcement from LAZ Parking, which manages the garage and parking enforcement for Storrs Center. LAZ would manage signage and implementation of the app, van Zelm said.
The parking system would also allow for a call-in option for those who do not own a smartphone, or don’t wish to download the ParkMobile app, Stathis Manousos, Vice President Business Development and Regional Manager for LAZ Parking, said. Paid kiosks may be added as well to account for this, and free parking would be made available on Sundays, in the evenings and during certain events, van Zelm said.
Town council members expressed several concerns over use of the app, namely that ‘drop-in’ parkers, or infrequent visitors, don’t want to download an app just to park.
Republican council member Betty Wassmundt said the app will disincentivize visitors from Storrs Center.
“I have never downloaded an app, and I expect I shall die without doing so,” Wassmundt said. “If I’m stopping in a 30-minute spot for takeout, and I have to use an app, I will not be stopping.”
While Democratic council member Ben Shaiken said the idea “makes sense,” he said implementing the system will need to involve a non-phone option, and the needs of businesses will need to be considered.
“We have businesses who want long-term parking. Just as many business want short-term parking,” Shaiken said. “[Our goal] is to drive people into… the parking garage.”
Shaiken also opposed proposed rate increases to the garage, which would charge $3 for the third hour after the first two free hours, and then $1 for each subsequent hour.
“I don’t think increasing for the garage is warranted,” he said.
Republican council member David Freudmann said the entirety of the Storrs Center parking plan is “unviable” and the app will further drive visitors from the area.
“What we have is a hostile parking situation,” Freudmann said. “[You risk] a ticket from LAZ waiting to pounce on you. [I say,] take your business somewhere with free parking.”
Freudmann added after the meeting that the rural background of the town doesn’t lend itself to city-like enforcement.
“It’s just not part of the culture,” Freudmann said. “We want to park in peace, and not have a hassle like you do in Hartford.”
Democratic council member Toni Moran said the town is highly constrained in terms of parking, due to limited space.
“The idea of being able to extend [parking] time…is really attractive,” Moran said. “There is a boundary that sets the potential number of parking spaces. We don’t have an awful lot of choice.”
While the final decision to use the app or not lies in the hands of the town manager, van Zelm said she will continue to seek input and feedback from businesses about the parking situation and implementing the proposed system.
“I’ve heard a lot of suggestions,” van Zelm said after the meeting. “Because of the [student] population we have downtown, we have to have some enforcement. Our goal [is] to try and find something efficient.”
Marlese Lessing is the news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She tweets @marlese_lessing.