Amherst unveils sweeping parking changes

Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 08, 2017

AMHERST — Pay-by-license plate machines, higher rates for prime spots and a mechanism for paying by using smartphones are among changes that have come to the parking system in downtown Amherst.

The various adjustments came into effect starting Monday. The changes were recommended by the Downtown Parking Working Group and approved by the Select Board in September.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said employees in the Department of Public Works and the town Treasurer Collector’s office on Sunday overhauled the system that encompasses 635 public parking spaces.

The work included activating and testing the new machines already placed in parking lots and the Boltwood parking garage. New stickers also were placed on all existing meters to explain the various adjustments, including extended enforcement hours and the option to pay for parking by smartphone.

The changes are designed to create regular turnover of prime parking spaces, but also to create spots where vehicles can be parked for extended periods — for example, by people wanting to see a film at the Amherst Cinema or who want to dine and shop during a visit.

Among the most noticeable differences in parking is the removal of the pay-by-space parking machines in favor of machines that require input of license plate numbers.

Another difference is that the town will be split into three distinct parking zones, with an increase in the cost of parking from 50 cents an hour to $1 an hour at 324 metered spaces.

In addition, for the first time, people will be able to use the ParkMobile app on their smartphones. ParkMobile is already in effect at the University of Massachusetts and in Northampton.

Town officials are asking the public to offer thoughts and opinions on the changes, by sending email to parking@amherstma.gov.

Resistance to changes

The changes are being met with some resistance in the business community. Black Sheep Deli owner Nick Seamon said that he sees the changes as a revenue generator, meaning the higher rates will be another tax his customers will have to pay.

Amherst Business Improvement District Executive Director Sarah la Cour said that is she is hearing concern from businesspeople about the “performance-based model.”

“It is a new model for Amherst and there’s concern that may not be friendly to businesses,” said la Cour, parking Awho is part of the working group.

La Cour said she is asking for patience from those who run businesses, that it could take a full year to understand whether the new system is working.

Jerry Guidera, interim executive director of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is endorsing the changes.

“We support the effort to develop a new parking plan and simplify our fee and collections systems,” Guidera said.

Both la Cour and Guidera said that a working group subcommittee that is beginning to explore a second parking structure to supplement the Boltwood parking garage is a positive development. La Cour said that has been a frequent request from merchants as parking becomes more of a premium with more mixed-use, infill developments.

Guidera, too, said that part of any long-term parking strategy must be developing a parking facility, whether municipal, private or a hybrid model.

“There’s just not enough parking in town to satisfy our current and future demands,” Guidera said.