Paid Parking Program Pitched For Rock Harbor

By: Ryan Bray

Topics: Parking , Orleans news , Rock Harbor

Non-residents could soon have to pay to park at Rock Harbor if an article seeking to establish new parking fees is approved at the special town meeting in October. RYAN BRAY PHOTO

ORLEANS – Parking is free at Rock Harbor, but that could change come next summer.

An article is set to appear on the warrant for the special town meeting next month that would create a paid parking program and associated fees for non-residents for the bay-front lot.

Town Administrator John Kelly told the select board Aug. 31 that with large capital projects planned in the coming years, including a full dredging of the harbor, bringing in revenue through parking will help offset the cost of the projects for taxpayers.

The program would also help the town better figure out how parking at the harbor is used by non-residents, Kelly said. Right now, there isn't a system in place for evaluating the parking lot's usage.

"You really need to understand who's using the harbor and how much money you really might be able to generate," he said.

The new program would involve entering into a contract with a parking vendor, AIMS Parking Systems, that will allow the town to manage parking through a mobile phone application. Kelly said it is believed that the program would apply to only about half of the harbor's 125 parking spaces (the rest are utilized by people who already pay for boat slips at the harbor, he said). As such, he said an app-based program that would not require a lot of investment in new equipment is the most cost-effective way of implementing paid parking.

"I would be concerned that the town would invest very heavily in capital equipment, like a kiosk, and find out that there's very little utilization," Kelly said.

The app would allow visitors to the harbor to pay a $15 daily parking fee using their smartphone. It would also give parking attendants and police the ability to track the license plates of all vehicles that have paid to park in real time, Kelly said.

But the town also has to anticipate problems that might arise from some visitors who may not be able to pay using the app. In those instances, Kelly suggested that other arrangements can be made for visitors to pay the daily rate instead of the $50 ticket that would otherwise be issued for failing to pay.

The parking fee would not apply to residents who have valid seasonal beach stickers.

"What we're talking about is a non-resident platform," Kelly said.

To adopt the program, an article would need to be drafted to establish the $15 daily non-resident parking fee, as well as a fee for a seasonal sticker for non-resident slipholders. Kelly in a memo to the board recommended a $30 fee for the seasonal non-resident sticker.

Voters at town meeting also would need to approve the $32,500 cost of the new AIMS contract, which would include three handheld printers, the app and a one-year subscription to the service. Approval of the article Oct. 17 would allow the town to start the program by Memorial Day, Kelly said.

The town already issues resident and non-resident beach stickers, and Mefford Runyon of the select board said another sticker specifically for Rock Harbor may create confusion. But Select Board member Mark Mathison said not being a town landing or a public beach, the harbor deserves its own sticker.

"Rock Harbor is unique, so it's going to have a unique set of governing principles," he said.

Select Board Chair Andrea Reed asked if there would be set hours between which the parking rates would apply. Kelly said the board could establish those as part of rules and regulations it would need to adopt for harbor parking.

Michael Herman of the select board specifically noted the importance of making the harbor open to all visitors to view the sunset without a fee. Reed agreed that allowing free visitation at sunset will be a big "sticking point" for visitors.

"We have plenty of time to work out logistics," said Nate Sears, the town's natural resources director. He said the winter months could be spent ironing out regulations for parking.

"Thank you for all the thinking on this," Reed said. "I know it's been a couple of seasons of discussion."

Users would be required to log their credit card or other payment information into the app ahead of using it, leading Runyon to question the app's ease of use.

"My sense is if you're fluent in how to use an app, it should be pretty quick," Kelly said.

Noting the various "moving parts" associated with starting up the parking program, Sears asked if the new fees would go into effect this coming summer. Kelly said the expectation is that they would, and it would be up to the select board to provide a date for them to go into effect.

Kevin Galligan of the select board asked that town staff come back to the board with a proposed implementation date as well as hours of enforcement at its next meeting on Sept. 7.

Email Ryan Bray at ryan@capecodchronicle.com