The City of New Bedford’s first increase to parking fines for expired meters in at least 20 years has been met with disdain from at least one local business owner, but Mayor Jon Mitchell maintains that the fines are still the lowest among municipalities the size of New Bedford, calling it “one of the lowest in the country.”

The New Bedford Traffic Commission voted unanimously on May 18 to increase the fine for an expired parking meter from $10 to $20. The increased fine, which went into effect on June 24, was the first increase in that fine since at least 2002, New Bedford Parking Clerk Laurie Alfonso said in a statement to WBSM. It could have been even longer, but the parking tickets on record from prior to 2002 do not indicate the nature of the violation.

“The Traffic Commission deliberated about this, and honestly I support the decision,” Mitchell said in his weekly appearance on WBSM. “I honestly think the traffic commission had the information in front of it to make a wise decision. The reality of it is New Bedford’s tickets may still be among the lowest tickets of center cities, one of the lowest in the country.”

Mitchell said he thought there would be those questioning why the fine was only increased by $10.

“I was surprised that people aren’t saying, ‘Hey why’d you stop at $20? Why should New Bedford be the lowest? Look at how successful the downtown has been in the last few years, look at the growth of all the restaurants, you've got a new hotel right there,’” he said. “I’m not suggesting that, but I'm surprised nobody else is.”

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The City of New Bedford had previously decided to raise the meter fees in October 2021, but had not raised the fine for an expired meter at the same time.

“We’d hear comments from time to time, ‘Your tickets are only 10 bucks? Why even bother with the meter?’” Mitchell said. “It’s really low, and it hasn't been changed in at least 20 years. The Traffic Commission held off during the pandemic. They didn't want to do it at the height of the pandemic.”

Hear Mayor Mitchell on The Tim Weisberg Show discuss this at the 8-minute mark below:

Why New Bedford Raised the Parking Fine

Alfonso said that at the May meeting, Traffic Commissioners were presented with a survey which compared New Bedford with 23 other Massachusetts and Rhode Island municipalities and what fine they levied for expired meters.

“The data showed that, of the total 24 communities surveyed, New Bedford (population 101,000) is the only city government with an expired meter fine of $10 – the lowest rate among all those surveyed,” she said. “The typical expired meter rate averages $25-30, while some are as high as $40.”

She noted that New Bedford “shared its $10 rate with the Town of Lexington, a suburban jurisdiction one-third the size of New Bedford, and the City of Greenfield, a small city of 18,000 in Western Massachusetts.”

Courtesy Laurie Alfonso/City of New Bedford
Courtesy Laurie Alfonso/City of New Bedford

“The primary driver of both meter rates and fine schedules is to achieve a balanced parking system that incents turnover at spaces and long-term parking in the garages or in metered spaces outside the central downtown core, which is designated as Zone 1,” Alfonso said. “We specifically want to dis-incent employees parking at metered spaces for long periods of time. Therefore, the penalty for overstaying one’s time at a meter needs to be meaningful enough to provide that disincentive. Broadly speaking, this is how all city and town centers approach parking management.”

New Bedford Fast Ferry Goers Pull a Fast One

Another concern, Alfonso said, was that those using the ferry were taking up spaces for long periods of time.

“In New Bedford, there is the important extra consideration of the hundreds of thousands of island ferry passengers that pass through the downtown business district each summer on their way to the ferry terminal on State Pier,” Alfonso said. “It is critical for the functioning of the downtown business district that these passengers are discouraged from parking on the street downtown and instead (incentivized) to use the dedicated Whale’s Tooth parking lot located outside the downtown business district. We do not want passenger vehicles taking up a metered space downtown because the $10 parking fine is less than the cost to park in the designated ferry parking lot, which is $15 per day.”

Mayor Mitchell echoed those sentiments.

“We do see, from time to time, ferry goers parking downtown. That’s especially true along Water Street and over by the (YMCA), people parking all weekend over there, as well as in other neighborhoods and other parts of downtown,” Mitchell said. “The incentive for them is pretty clear: $15 per day at the Whale’s Tooth lot, but they can get a space somewhere much much closer, within walking distance of the ferry terminal, and only get hit with a $10 ticket, it makes all the sense in the world. So we were contending with that.”

New Bedford Business Owner Goes Viral Over Parking Fine Increase Post

On Tuesday, a social media post from Brandon Roderick, owner of The Baker-New Bedford at 562 Pleasant Street, got a lot of attention as he called out the City for how it handled the rollout of the fine increase, and for he felt was “anti-business”

“The decision by the City of New Bedford Traffic Commission to raise ticket prices by 100 percent from $10 to $20 is anti-business and unfriendly toward downtown and the Ave (and wherever else there may be meters!),” he posted as part of his statement.

On Wednesday, he said on WBSM that he felt the parking fine increase would keep people from coming downtown.

“My view is small businesses have been through a lot, coming out of a pandemic, now we’re hit with inflation, lack of labor, rising prices across the board,” Roderick said. “I think the City should be doing everything possible to encourage people to come downtown, and not to deter people from coming downtown.”

Roderick said based on responses to his social media post, that’s exactly what seems to be happening.

“If you look on the post that went almost viral on Facebook and Instagram, a lot of people said they stopped coming downtown because the app is so confusing, the meters aren’t friendly enough, they’re not easy enough to use, there’s no card option on the meter, so you either have to have quarters or you have to download an app,” he said. “You have to put in your credit card information, it has to be saved in the app, so it’s an ordeal if you’re just coming down one time or a couple of times, so I get it.”

Roderick said that’s not the only problem with Passport, the parking app used by the City of New Bedford for virtual payment of parking meters.

“The app that they have in place allows for meter feeding. What I mean by meter feeding is, we have zones now downtown, in the center it’s 2-3 hours, and as you work your way out of downtown it's four hours,” he said. “You can continually add money, without moving your car, from the app. If it runs out, just add another three hours. The old app didn't allow that, it was by meter number.”

“It’s just confusing as to what the City is trying to do. If you’re telling me that you’re trying to move cars and keep them moving and not park there all day…if that’s the goal, then the app that you’re using does not meet that goal, does not meet that requirement,” he said.

Here Brandon Roderick on The Tim Weisberg Show beginning at the 9:40 mark below:

“I think this is just another dagger in the divide of who downtown is meant for, and who downtown should be for, which is everybody,” he said. “I think there’s this notion that exists – and I don’t want to use this word as a trigger word – but that word ‘gentrification’ has been coming along in New Bedford, and the outing of people because of the train and the increase in rent. I think this is just adding to the problem, and I really think it’s a tone deaf move by the administration or by the Traffic Commission to do this right now.”

New Bedford City Councilors Oppose the Parking Fine Increase

New Bedford City Council President Ian Abreu and Ward 2 Councilor Maria Giesta have filed a motion requesting that the Traffic Commission “immediately rescind their policy which instituted on June 24, 2022, in which the Traffic Commission voted to increase metered parking fines throughout New Bedford by 100 percent from $10 to $20 at their May 18, 2022 meeting.” The motion will be addressed at the July 21 city council meeting to be referred to the Committee on Appointments and Briefings.

City Councilor at Large Brian Gomes and Ward 1 Councilor Brad Markey sit on the Traffic Commission as the council’s representatives.

“As a member of the Traffic Commission, I strongly did not support the increase, and that is on the record,” Councilor Gomes told WBSM.

However, Roderick said that when he asked Alfonso for the official record of the vote to increase the fine, it said that both Gomes and Markey were absent from the meeting.

“I had talked to Councilor Gomes, because I like to do my homework first before I go to social media,” Roderick said. “Gomes wasn’t at the meeting, although he said he sent a letter stating he did not support this.”

Roderick said the letter was not included with the information he received, only that it stated Gomes and Markey were both absent when the vote was taken.

“As my city councilors, where’s my representation in this commission? Where was the conversation that happened between business owners and the community (to see) if this is what the community wants? I just feel that there’s no conversation to be had, that it’s just that the City’s going to do it and we’re going to deal with it.”

In a statement to WBSM, Alfonso said that “the Traffic Commission follows a public process for all changes in parking-related fees and fines.”

“With respect to the recent changes, on May 9 the Traffic Commission published a public hearing ad in the New Bedford Standard-Times announcing that the proposal would be considered at the Traffic Commission meeting on May 18,” she said. “And on May 11, the New Bedford City Clerk posted the meeting information and agenda on the Traffic Commission website.”

“Following a unanimous vote of adoption at its May 18 meeting, the Commission advertised the rate change twice in the New Bedford Standard-Times (on May 26 and June 2). The change was implemented on June 24,” she said.

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