The Brace Road parking lot in West Hartford Center will undergo a conversion to the kiosk system this summer, but will maintain a 30-minute grace period.
By Ronni Newton
The system of paying for parking in the Brace Road lot in West Hartford Center will be changing soon, but the rates will remain unchanged at $1.50 per hour.
“This is just a continuation of the process started in 2014,” Director of Public Works John Phillips said.
Since 2014, the town has been upgrading its parking technology, spreading the cost out over a number of years beginning with small lots like the ones on Arapahoe and Raymond Road, on-street parking, the Farmington Avenue lot, and most recently the garages in Blue Back Square.
When the plans were approved in 2014 for construction of the new building at 11 South Main, on the site of the former Masonic Temple, the parking lot also needed to be modified because that building – The Landmark – has underground parking accessible through the Farmington Avenue lot and it didn’t work to have the lot gate-controlled, said Phillips.
In addition, people were always asking to use their credit cards to pay for parking, Phillips said. West Hartford has had paid parking since 1968, and while the coin system worked for years, it had become archaic.
“Kiosks, in the parking world, are the best option,” said Phillips.
Like the Farmington Avenue lot, the Brace Road lot will have a 30-minute grace period. It will be the same zone (475) as the Farmington Avenue lot, and those using the lot will follow the same procedure at the kiosk to select the free 30-minute option.
“It will allow you to run into Larsen’s quickly to get that one item,” he said.
The grace period is not available through the Passport Parking app, Philips said. “The app is a payment method, not a deliverer of the program.”
Additional time for those parked in the Brace Road lot will be able to be added at any of the “475” zone kiosks – in the Brace Road lot or Farmington Avenue lot.
While gate attendants will no longer be needed at the Brace Road lot, Philips said that there will be “no layoffs whatsoever.” Any reduction in staff will be handled through attrition, he said, and there will not be as many seasonal hires for what is traditionally a part-time, entry-level position.
Initially, Phillips said, “Parking attendants will roam around and assist people [in using the kiosks], act as ambassadors.”
Town Manager Matt Hart expressed his appreciation for Phillips, Parking Operations Manager Brooke Nelson, and the rest of the team in their approach to upgrading the system.
“This is best practice, and the way it works nationwide now,” Hart said. While there may be a bit of a learning curve, it will allow the parking operation to run more efficiently and effectively, eliminating exit lines and barriers to entry or exit.
“We expect to be online in the first part of July,” Phillips said of the kiosk system at Brace Road. He said they want to test everything completely to ensure its working properly before eliminating the gates.
The Town Hall lot will retain its existing gate system for now, but that will be the next piece. Phillips said there will likely be a system similar to that used at the library, where Town Hall visitors can get complimentary parking for a set period of time. Understanding that sometimes town meetings last for several hours, he said there will be flexibility in the amount of time that is complimentary.
Other than those attending meetings, most of the people who park at Town Hall after 5 p.m. are not there on town business, Phillips said.
What you may not know about parking in West Hartford
Phillips shared some details about paid parking in West Hartford Center, which has been in place since 1968.
There are about 1.8 million parking transactions per year, not including parking permits. On average, 80 percent are done through the pay-by-plate system. Of those who pay-by-plate, 10 percent use coins at the kiosks, 70 percent use credit cards at the kiosks, and 20 percent pay with the Passport Parking app.
About 730,000 transactions are for street parking, 550,000 for lot parking, and 530,000 for garage parking.
Parking lots have had a rate of $1.50 per hour since 2003, and garage parking has been $1.50 per hour since 2007.
In 2007, the 30-minute free parking with a 75-cent charge for the next 30 minutes changed to a 30-minute grace period, where there is no fee for those parked less than 30 minutes, but the $1.50 per hour charge applies after that.
On-street rates increased from $1.00 per hour to $1.50 per hour in 2014, following approval by the Town Council. The goal was to equalize rates and increase turnover and availability of on-street parking. The occupancy rate moved from more than 90 percent to the preferred rate of 85 percent.
The $7 daily rate cap in surface lots was eliminated in late 2017, also an attempt to encourage turnover and create availability for visitors, Phillips said. Workforce parking for service employees has been available since 2008 in the Isham and Memorial Garages at a rate of $3 for 8 hours.
Without paid parking in the Center, there would be a lack of available parking for transient visitors, particularly at on-street locations, Phillips said.
The current system also allows for several contiguous surface lots for public parking rather than relying on private lots with competing interests.
Free parking is available for library visitors, and the parking system supports mixed uses for patients of medical practices, employees including workforce employees, visitors, contracted valet services, and events.
West Hartford Municipal Parking is a self-supported enterprise fund, not part of the town’s general fund. It supports beautification efforts in the central business district including the display of American flags and welcome banners, servicing and maintaining the Big Belly trash and recycling bins, cleaning sidewalks on a daily basis including weekend nights, arranging and care of more than 50 planters, provision of four electric vehicle chargers, powering light poles, and decorating light poles for the holidays.
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