Council shifts paid parking time to later in the day, raises fees

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NORTHAMPTON — Downtown parking rules soon to be implemented will shift the hours of paid parking to later in the day — and eliminate a two-hour time limit in favor of higher fees — as part of a coordinated effort to encourage turnover of coveted spots in front of businesses.

The City Council approved an ordinance earlier this month that adjusts the time of the parking fees at on- and off-street parking meters from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., two hours later than the current 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. timeframe. The rules are not in effect on Sundays.

Parking at the E. John Gare Garage located in the downtown of the city will remain accessible for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with the first hour free. Permit parking, however, will rise to $110 a month from the current $90.

The new rule also does away with previously imposed time limits of two hours in downtown areas, but instead increases the rates to discourage long-term parking in those areas. Fees for parking along Main Street, for example, will be $1.50 an hour, or 50 cents higher than current rates, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. The fee goes up to $2 an hour between the hours of 5-8 p.m. These fees can be paid in smaller increments than an hour for shorter stays.

Rates on Saturdays will be $2 an hour from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“This results from a multi-year effort to streamline and update how we manage the city’s parking system,” Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra said in a statement to the Gazette. “These common-sense changes based on expert analysis will increase circulation on Main Street and make it easier and more efficient to park downtown.”

The move by the city comes as revenues from parking fell significantly after the onset of COVID-19, and have yet to return to their pre-pandemic levels. Parking revenues in Northampton for the 2023 fiscal year were estimated at $1.2 million, down 40% from before the pandemic, according to city budget documents from last May, although revenues have risen since their low point in fiscal year 2021.

The move to implement the time shift and abolish the two-hour limit comes from a study by Northampton-based engineering consultant Stantec. The study, titled “The Shifting Role of Parking in Downtowns,” included a review of the parking price structure downtown and recommendations for a better parking management and pricing system. The study was presented to the city in June 2022, although the council held off on taking a vote on the ordinance until the winter.

“When convenient parking is free or very low cost, people will do what they can to park there, including move their car every hour or two to avoid a ticket,” the report states. “Curbs become hunting grounds with low or zero availability. However, if there is a fee high enough to make a price-sensitive driver consider a cheaper, more remote alternative, sufficient availability can be created for those who need front-door access.”

Sciarra told the council during its Jan. 5 meeting that enforcement of the new ordinance would be implemented gradually, with violators between the new enforced period of 6-8 p.m receiving written warnings instead of fines at first. The city is also planning a public notice to put out before officially enforcing the change.

“We will have some sort of adjustment period where we won’t issue tickets, but we’ll remind folks that this is a time that we are expecting them to pay for parking,” Sciarra said.

Carolyn Misch, the city’s director of planning and sustainability, told the council she hoped the new parking times would be implemented sometime before the end of winter.

“It depends on when we can get the software changes loaded into those systems,” she said. “Once all of that is straightened out, which I assume will happen simultaneously to the public notice, then we’d be ready to go.”

Businesses owners and managers downtown met the news with mixed responses. Terri Pajak, manager of clothing retailer Synergy, said she considered the parking spots in front of the store’s Main Street location to be “golden eggs” and that customers who park there tend to spend more. She called the issue of parking a “sore subject” for businesses downtown, but that abolishing the two-hour limit could be beneficial.

“I do think it helps for people who come from out of town to shop here,” Pajak said. “On the other hand, having paid parking until 8 will upset people who work here in town.”

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at

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