If all goes according to plan, the villages of Sag Harbor and East Hampton will implement new smartphone app-based paid parking in certain areas of the villages by Memorial Day weekend.
Officials in both villages say they hope the programs will provide revenue and, at the same time, reduce the number of parking tickets issued to visitors — and the ill will that goes along with them.
Village officials, business owners and a representative of the company that will provide the app-based service spoke about the villages’ plans during a virtual Express Sessions forum, “Villages Chart New Course Toward Paid Parking,” held via Zoom on Thursday, January 14.
Panelists for the forum included East Hampton Village Mayor Jerry Larsen; East Hampton Village Police Captain Tony Long; Mark Smith, owner of Rowdy Hall, a restaurant in East Hampton; Sag Harbor Village Trustee Aidan Corish; David Brogna, owner of Home on Main Street, a shop in Sag Harbor; and Lex Bloom, the regional sales manager for ParkMobile, the firm providing the parking app. The discussion was moderated by Express News Group Executive Editor Joseph P. Shaw.
In Sag Harbor, the paid parking plan will be implemented at Long Wharf and along Main Street. Spots would be limited to paid parking between 10 a.m. and midnight, with a handful of spaces limited to 30-minute parking remaining unpaid; handicapped spaces also will be free.
Between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., parking will be limited to three hours; the first hour is free, with a fee of $5 for the second hour and $7.50 for the third hour, paid via the app. After 5 p.m., there will be a four-hour limit. The first hour will be free, the second hour $5, the third $7.50, and the fourth hour $15.
Paid parking would be in effect between May 29 and October 11.
In East Hampton, the initiative will be restricted to the Reutershan and Schenck parking lots. Village residents would never be required to pay for parking, but would be limited to one- or three-hour intervals, depending on the spot.
For visitors, there will be designated spots where drivers can park for up to 30 minutes for free. After that, parking will cost $2 per hour for up to three hours, paid via the app. After 5 p.m., parking will be free.
The fee structure will be in place in East Hampton Village from May 15 to September 15.
An Unspoken Price?
All of the panelists agreed that the proposed new parking systems would be beneficial to the villages, at least financially. But some concerns were expressed, particularly regarding the Sag Harbor plan, that some people — senior village residents without cellphones, specifically — might be hindered from employing the system.
In Sag Harbor, the first hour of parking in the designated spots would be free, but drivers would still need to register their cars when they take a spot, either through the smartphone app or by calling a toll-free phone number.
Mr. Blum noted that for people without smartphones, the toll-free number would be displayed prominently on signs and decals explaining the parking procedures.
“The 1-800 number is available with all our deployments,” he said. “It’s on the signs or decals on those still are to be determined with each deployment. So it’s big and bright. They can see that 1-800 number and make a phone call.
“With the older population,” he added, “we actually haven’t found that they’re turned off by the app. … It is a small, small subset of people that we have seen in our over 11 years of experience.”
Mr. Corish also emphasized that only 25 percent of the overall parking spaces in the village would be converted to paid parking, leaving 75 percent of the current parking spaces available at no charge to anyone who didn’t want to pay, or who were unable to use the system.
“What I’m trying to do with this proposal is to take just 25 percent,” he said. “I think it’s really important to get that message out that 75 percent of the core parking in the village remains unchanged. When I hear these comments, it’s sort of intimated that we’re taking all the parking away from all the people all the time.”
In East Hampton, there wouldn’t be a similar concern, Mayor Larsen said, noting that village residents would be allowed to park in the lots for three hours at no charge — and would not have to register on the app or by phone because their license plate numbers will already be in the system, using the village’s beach permit data.
“There’ll be no interaction for village residents. They’ll just pull in, park and they’ll have to leave within the one hour or the three-hour time,” Captain Long said.
Mr. Brogna, whose shop is on Main Street in Sag Harbor, also said he was concerned that the parking would be seen simply as a money grab by the village, and not an effort to fix an unwieldy traffic and parking problem. He said he was concerned about the effects on other business and building owners, and predicted that his customers would not be happy to pay for parking.
“The day this goes into effect, I invite all officials to be at our store, or any store on Main Street, to deal with what we get from the people parking,” he said. “Because we get complaints. People come in yelling at us about a parking ticket. They’re going to come in, ‘Why do I need to do this?’ So we really need to know how this is going to be handled in that respect.”
Sag Harbor Trustee James Larocca, who joined the Zoom conversation briefly last week, said he was worried about the impact the paid system would have on village residents, and reiterated concerns about how it would affect the elderly.
“I’m troubled, first of all, by the impact on working families during these very difficult times,” he said. “I think it imposes a much greater difficulty than Mr. Blum may be acknowledging here.
“Schiavoni’s, our IGA market on Main Street, is regularly patronized by village residents, many of whom are older. And I think saying to them, ‘When you come down to do your mid-morning shopping, we’re going to give you an hour of free time, but you’ve got to go onto an app on a device, a technological device, that may not be part of your life.”
Mr. Larocca added that he saw the parking fee as a “regressive tax” on village residents, which would inequitably affect lower-income families.
“The structure that we’re looking at in Sag Harbor will for somebody who wants to come downtown at 5 or 6 o’clock for pizza, a movie … a stroll down to the park, onto the wharf and everything else. Your parking fee, three to four hours for an evening in town, can be somewhere between $25 and $30.
“And I just think that’s a terrible burden for working families who want to come down to their village, where they live, work and do business and are raising their children.”
What Are The Benefits?
Concerns were also raised that some visitors could bypass the system altogether by simply instead visiting a village or hamlet that did not have paid parking restrictions. But the village officials noted that one upside to the plans would be the removal of the stigma that comes from issuing parking tickets to people who overstay current time limits.
“We can reduce the number of tickets we’re giving out to people and, hopefully, reduce the anger,” Mr. Corish said, noting that the village typically takes in about $700,000 per year in parking tickets, a number he believes would be greatly reduced under the plan.
“It’s just an unfriendly way to make money,” Mayor Larsen said of the revenue generated for his village — about the same $700,000 as Sag Harbor.
Mayor Larsen said he expects to generate about $2 million per year through the paid parking program — funds that he envisions paying for a costly $20 million sewer project the village hopes to implement.
“We have over a million cars that go in and out of our two parking lots every year,” he said. “So if we can gain revenue from those, we could use that money to pay for the septic system, which is going to be somewhere about $20 million. So that’s our goal.”
“It sounds like a win-win — not only do we eliminate that negative experience for either resident or visitor, but we’re actually going to substantially increase our revenue base,” Mr. Smith said.
Sag Harbor already has a sewer system, so the revenue would pay for other needs in the village, Mr. Corish said, noting that officials hope to see about $1 million from the parking program. “We’re in desperate need for infrastructure,” he said. “And we’re a small municipality with big bills to pay.
“And the idea is to develop a predictable repeatable source of income so that we can plan a few years out,” he added. “So we don’t have all of these great plans withering on the vine because there are no funds. So, the idea would be that we could take a more practical approach to village infrastructure.”
He also noted that the villages wouldn’t be spending any upfront costs to implement the program, they would all be borne by ParkMobile, which would collect a 30 cent transaction fee.
“The cost in the municipality is zip,” Mayor Larsen said. “So it’s really a home run for everybody.”
At the same time, officials from both villages said that this year would be a trial run, of sorts, and they would be open to making changes moving forward.
“I prefer to start [small] and be in a position to be able to expand this next year,” Mr. Corish said, “once we know where we are. This is a great experiment for everybody. I think it’s going to work. I’m really confident in it. But let’s see where we are at the end of the season.”
Mayor Larsen noted that the village pivoted this spring and summer in light of the pandemic, increasing timed parking from two to three hours, and then lifting all parking regulations again in the holiday season to help promote local businesses struggling to recover from the pandemic. He said he’d be willing to adjust the paid program as well, if it was warranted.
“So if we institute this program and we realized we’re in the middle of a mess again,” he said, “we can suspend it, and lift the parking regulations. … I think we have to get started. And in our situation, it’s crucial. I mean, we’re in it for the revenue because we have major projects that we need to accomplish to help the entire business district.”