In a city where it’s often hard to find a parking space, the Hoboken Parking Utility maintains that they are trying to come up with new initiatives to fix it. Those initiatives don’t involve building new garages, but finding ways to encourage other forms of transportation.
The basic problem is a simple case of supply and demand in a mile-square city with over 50,000 residents.
Hoboken has approximately 10,000 legal street parking spaces. Yet in 2005, the Parking Utility sold nearly 20,000 residential parking permits and 1,500 business parking permits.
In 2005, the Hoboken Parking Utility sold nearly 20,000 residential parking permits.
“The number of permits and the pressure to find a spot has declined, but as a driver, you’re still struggling to find parking spaces because we’re still over [capacity] by 50 percent,” Sacs said. (Note: This interview was conducted the day before Sacs ended up in a well-publicized altercation with a city bus driver two weeks ago; see last week’s briefs for that story.)
So what is a driver to do?
Breaking the law: Worst option
The first choice is often to break the law. Cars are not permitted to park within 25 feet of a crosswalk so that motorists can see pedestrians crossing, according to Sacs. But illegal parking is common in Hoboken. With about 160 intersections and room to fit eight cars at each intersection, that totals approximately 1,300 spots that are potentially illegally occupied.
In addition, Washington Street is often full of double-parked cars.
There have even been cases in which people have created a counterfeit Hoboken parking permit, and been caught.
Menu of options
Over the years, politicians have given numerous suggestions to improve the situation, including building “perimeter parking” – garages on the borders of town, with shuttle buses heading to them. But no one has acted on that idea.
“There’s a philosophy here that the solution is to build more garages,” Sacs said. “If that’s all you do, then you’re just encouraging more people to drive.”
The city has introduced initiatives to present what Sacs calls “a balanced mix of transportation options.”
“As we continue to grow, we will still need to build parking and provide parking, but it’s not just about supply,” Sacs said. “The smart solution and the one that’s going to work is creating a menu of transportation options that gives every resident a choice of how to get around. It’s not a parking problem in Hoboken; it’s a transportation problem.”
The city has introduced special rates for people who park in the city’s public garages for part of the day, thus removing their cars from the streets.
One “monthly limited” plan requires members to remove their cars from garages during weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The plan currently has 77 members.
The city also introduced a new plan that allows workers in Hoboken the option of giving up their business permit to receive a free permit to park in city garages for $5 per day. Sixty-four people have signed up for that program.
Last year, the city unveiled the Hertz Corner Cars program, which allows residents to rent cars parked on Hoboken street corners, at low hourly rates. Sacs expected scores of residents to give up their cars because they could use this option.
The program has proven to be a political football. Business owners said that the cars on street corners take away valuable spots for their customers, and the council members who oppose the mayor’s administration have made several criticisms of the program, saying it won’t take that many cars off the street.
Sacs said many of the 1,100 members of Corner Cars are people who were going to bring a car to Hoboken but didn’t, or those who thought about buying a car and didn’t.
He now estimates that the program has resulted in removing approximately 350 cars off the streets since its inception in the summer of 2010. A goal for the program is to remove 750 cars from the street by the summer of 2012.
Sacs said the program has resulted in 70 people surrendering parking permits because they got rid of their car to use the program, so the criticism about the 42 spots taken up by the cars is “completely unfounded.”
Critics of the program have said that the cars should be placed in the garages or in lots. Supporters of the CornerCars say that placing them on the street increases the program’s visibility.
The newest option for transportation around the city allows for residents and visitors to hail taxis virtually.
The new system works as follows: text “hail [address]” to 41411. The address must include “Hoboken NJ” at the end of the text, or “07030.”
For example, to hail a cab to the Hudson Reporter building, one would text “hail 1400 Washington Street 07030” to 41411.
The customer must send “s” afterwards, repeatedly if needed, to get the status of the hail until a driver accepts the fare, according to a release. If a driver accepts, the status message will tell the person the cab number to expect. Afterwards, people can text 1 through 5 to rate the service, with 5 being the best.
The city release states that it’s a pilot test with a few taxis, and some “bugs” are expected.
The city also operates a new city shuttle bus known as “The Hop.” It heads around town generally from east to west and west to east, unlike the north-south NJ Transit buses. It costs only a dollar.
But the Hop is not well-known by city residents.
“My weakest ability is in outreach and marketing,” Sacs said. “I’m an engineer by trade. I can solve problems, and my first step was to implement the mechanisms to solve those problems. What we’re working on now is outreach and education.”
Sacs said he is most proud of “the efforts [the city] has made to improve pedestrian safety.”
How does pedestrian safety impact parking?
“We’ve worked to make a lot of pedestrian safety improvements, and there are people who choose to walk now,” he said. “Some of these people may be walking in lieu of driving a car, so that frees up parking.”
On the horizon for the Parking Utility is the possibility of an online registration system, which would allow residents to print out permits and obtain necessary paperwork online, cutting down trips to the Hoboken Parking Utility.
The HPU also recently added new hours on Saturday, as the office is now open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“If I can reduce the parking demand, I make it easier for those who need to drive to find a parking space,” Sacs said. “If I am successful in getting people to switch to riding a bicycle instead of a car, I’ve reduced the traffic on the street for those who need to drive. If you don’t have the options and your only choice is to drive, then you’re stuck in traffic with everybody else.”
Ray Smith may be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com