Altoids In Hand, Ray Spreads The Meter News

As Ray Willis started taking plate numbers outside Orange Street’s Style 2000 beauty salon, a small stampede of drivers rushed to the sidewalk. Even though 7 p.m. had passed.

Willis has the popular job of handing out parking tickets. He usually leaves the beat by 7 p.m.

But new rules hit downtown meters this week: You have to feed the meter until 9 now.

So Willis greeted sundown in uniform Wednesday, the second night the city has enforced its new and controversial parking regulations.

Under the new rules, drivers have to pay until 9 p.m. to park at one of the downtown meters, but can stay for as long as they want after 5 p.m. The parking plan, meant to raise extra money for the cash-strapped city government and free up spaces for visiting customers (as opposed to employees) outside businesses, stirred controversy among business owners, employees, and customers—and resulted in a compromise. (The original plan would have charged until midnight.) Under the plan, drivers can park at meters all four hours, rather than just one or two hours, between 5 and 9 p.m. The signs don’t say that yet, but they will soon.

Luckily for the salon stampede, Willis wasn’t handing out tickets in the new late-hour period Wednesday. He and a newly beefed-up retinue of meter-checkers handed out warning notices (pictured) and patiently explained the new policies to people. Officials aren’t saying how long this warning period will last.

With the new parking policies came a promotion for 29-year-old Willis, who has worked at the traffic department for two years. He is now field supervisor for the evening shift, a position created specifically to manage the three new officers hired by the city to enforce the later paid parking hours.

Willis reported that neither he nor any of the officers he supervises have encountered any problems enforcing the new rules so far. His approach to the job helps. Easy as it is to get mad at a parking ticket, it’s hard to get mad at Willis. The lifelong New Havener goes to great lengths to make his job—which city transportation czar Jim Travers called “the most hated in the city”—a little more lovable.

“Care for an mint?” he asked, pulling a case of Altoids from his pocket as he walked down Chapel street checking meters. “I always try to carry mints or chewing gum with me. Most of our job implies talking to people at a close range, and we’re giving them bad news. Having bad breath would be adding insult to injury.”

Although Willis issued several warning notices through the shift, most of his interactions with drivers came in the form of verbal notifications. (Click on the play arrow at the top of the story to watch some of them.)

“Get out!” remarked one of the women rushing out from Style 2000 when Willis told her about the new regulations. “Oh my God! They need money, don’t they? I can understand, it’s kind of rough right now.”

“Did he give me a ticket?” asked another.

“Nope,” replied Willi., “I haven’t given anyone on this block a ticket yet.”

One motorist during Wednesday evening’s rounds asked Willis if it would be all right to finish his cigarette before running to refill his meter.

“We aren’t handing tickets tonight,” said Willis. “Just warning notices.”

“So, that means tonight I’ll get a warning,” replied the smoker, “but another night it might be a ticket?”

“Tonight’s the warning night,” said Willis. “We are just trying to get the word out that people do have to pay until nine.”

“What Better Job?”

Nicolás Medina Mora Pérez PhotoWillis said that he loves New Haven, and that he feels his work make the city a better place. He’s familiar with people who run the restaurants and bars on his beat; he said he hopes that the enforcement of the new rules will help them in the long run.

“If the waiters and waitresses park a little further down to save money and free up the parking spots right in front of all these businesses,” he said, “then more people will come here. It will be a lot more convenient for our visitors.”

“What better job could there be?” Willis reflected as the sun set and he headed back to the city transportation office at 200 Orange. “You get paid to walk around a beautiful city at a leisurely pace and enjoy wonderful summer days like this.”

What about the winter?

“I try not to think about the winter,” he replied, laughing.

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posted by: gogogordon on May 31, 2012  12:22pm

Great job Mr. Willis & all of parking enforcement.  It may be an unpopular job but it is a necessary one for everyone to be able to enjoy the city.

posted by: Truth Avenger on May 31, 2012  12:39pm

The city should be encouraging after-hours business, not nickle-and-diming those that would like to patronize businesses later in the day.  It’s the kind of penny wise-pound foolish money-grab that only hurts the city and discourages patrons from coming down town (and having to deal with newly created parking hassles.)
Who can enjoy a meal or even a movie, knowing that Parking Enforcement prowlers are lurking about looking for ways to punish you for trying to do business and boost the local economy?  This disincentive needs to be re-examined and common sense brought to bear on our parking policies.  In a word, they suck.

posted by: PH on May 31, 2012  2:42pm

Truth Avenger: try walking or riding a bike.  Or take a bus.  If you live out of town and feel the need to drive, then please contribute to the maintenance of my city’s roads and infrastructure that you are using by complying with the parking meters.  It really isn’t that much to ask.

posted by: Pedro Soto on May 31, 2012  2:43pm

Truth Avenger- a great many of the people who park on the streets downtown during the evening have been employees, students and residents looking to get free overnight parking, or free parking during their work shift.
If anything, this is going to increase the number of available spots, and make it easier to come downtown, since the people grabbing free spots for the evening will no longer be doing this.

There’s an easy way to enjoy anything you described- just pay the meter! The only ones that are until 9 are credit card operated ones, so they are pretty easy to pay.

Ideally, I was hoping that there might be a reduced rate after 5 to encourage this, but the demand for downtown spots in the evening is pretty intense, so this is likely a market-appropriate price.

While there might be some short-sighted folks who will spend more in gas money to drive into the suburbs for free parking, I don’t think this is going to reduce local business…if anything it will help to increase it.

posted by: Anderson Scooper on May 31, 2012  3:01pm

How come there are only parking meters downtown?

Why not Whalley Avenue, State Street, Grand Avenue, etc.? Heck, what about Wooster Street?

Anyway, the current system hardly seems fair. Tax all the commercial strips, or none!

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 31, 2012  3:24pm

I see this happing here.

posted by: Truth Avenger on May 31, 2012  4:11pm

@ PH, and Pedro:PH, Thanks but your suggestions are not practical; riding a bicycle in the evening can be dangerous (not to mention bad weather), one still would have to find an appropriate space to park a bike(and then worry about it getting ripped off)- Should I expect my guests to also ride a bike to our destination?  Then there are those folks who do not ride, or do not feel comfortable waiting for hours for a city bus and on and on.  As far as contributing to the maintenance of our infrastructure- I have been a New Haven homeowner for more than 30 years- I continue to subsidize everything in this city through taxes- increased parking fees for evenings is just another tax on top of all the others…so yes, it is too much too ask- where does it end?  Pedro: The short sighted folks are the ones who want to keep bleeding travelers to downtown New Haven- workers and patrons alike.  I think it is a raw deal for all those workers that now have to pony up even more for the privilege of serving others and trying to ear a living, and as a patron, dealing with late night parking and the fear of getting a parking ticket might just be the tipping point in deciding whether to do the NH parking hassle or go to a place where scraping for a space and paying into the night is not the appetizer for night on the town.

posted by: gogogordon on May 31, 2012  6:41pm

Truth Avenger I think you have it backwards - the parking enforcement crew is not “lurking about looking for ways to punish you”, the new meters encourage parking spot turnover so that more people can enjoy downtown.  If you really can’t stand to feed the meter, park in one of Yale’s lots that are free after 4pm.  And if you go to the Criterion to enjoy a movie it is foolish not to park in the Temple Street Garage - with a voucher from the cinemas it is only $3, cheaper than parking on the street for two hours!

posted by: independenteye on May 31, 2012  7:15pm

I would love the Independent to look into the “hybrids park free policy”.  Seems like only the wealthiest local residents can afford such a car….and interestingly, Nemerson and the Mayor both drive Hybrids, so don’t pay to park.  Hmmmmm.

These new meter hours are short term thinking and more long term planning.  Want to thrive?  Look at Bethesda MD.  Parking meters go off line AND GARAGES ARE FREE after 5 PM and on weekends.  Maybe that is why the downtown is always packed?

posted by: Truth Avenger on May 31, 2012  10:38pm

GoGo- This is not about “feeding the meters” This is about adding additional paid meter hours- essentially, fixing something that wasn’t broken.  No one begrudges paying for parking during regular business hours- I resent that parking, with all its attendant issues, has just gotten even more expensive- and always there is the threat of that ticket…if you’ve ever used a meter, you’ve most likely gotten a ticket despite your best efforts to feed the thing. When the warning tickets cease to be warnings and folks actually start having to pay those tickets, people will be turned off to venturing down town- they will have yet another incentive to go elsewhere.  As for parking at the Temple Street Garage…sure, after paying for a pair of Movie tickets, I really want to shell out another three dollars for the privilege of going to the Criterion - that’s 25 bucks- and that’s without the popcorn(don’t get me started on that rip off).  At least when meters clocked off at 5 or even 7 pm, patrons had a shot at some free, off street parking… I am more inclined to believe what “Independenteye” had to say on this matter than to believe apologists for New Haven’s short-sighted parking schemes:“Look at Bethesda MD.  Parking meters go off line AND GARAGES ARE FREE after 5 PM and on weekends.  Maybe that is why the downtown is always packed?”
It’s going to take more than a few Altoids to take the stink off these new extended fee hours!

posted by: AvonLady on June 1, 2012  9:14am

It’s obvious from reading the comments that some people are confused as to why this is being instituted.  Sure, it’s a way for the city to generate extra revenue, but the only reason that’s possible is that there’s a high demand for parking downtown.  The city holds an asset—convenient on-street parking—and there are lots of residents and visitors who would like to use it.  I see no reason why the city should be obligated to provide it for free, when there are clearly many people who will happily pay the $3-4.50 to park within a block of their evening’s entertainment.

For all of you raving about Bethesda: it is less than half the size of New Haven population-wise, so perhaps not really a fair comparison.  And it misses the point suggested at in my first paragraph: New Haven’s downtown is often packed, which is why you can’t find any parking! 

Perhaps those of you singing Bethesda’s praises should consider moving there.  I’m sure you’ll find lots to complain about once you’ve settled in.

posted by: Truth Avenger on June 1, 2012  12:36pm

Avon Lady- “Love it or leave it,” huh? That’s always the last refuge of the idea-challenged. Parking is an asset.  In this case, it is an asset that is being bled beyond reason.  Suburban citizens that live by beaches get to enjoy the amenities of the shore with a town pass.  Why not grant taxpaying urbanites residing in New Haven the same privilege- free downtown parking passes after 5 or 6pm.  Given the exorbitant taxes New Haveners pay in support of everything New Haven, this is not asking too much.  Think of it as the city giving a little back to its over-burdened citizens. Parking stickers- a small way for New Haven to say, “thank you for paying taxes and supporting the city and downtown enterprise” -instead of, “like it or leave it, pay-up-shut-up” as some have suggested. Those that think New Haven is guaranteed a bustling nightlife with packed streets are gravely mistaken.  There is a tipping point at which time citizens simply say, enough is enough.  Then we’ll see how much of an asset those empty parking spaces are to the city.

posted by: AvonLady on June 1, 2012  2:07pm

I will say it again, since apparently it’s not getting through.  It’s a simple matter of supply and demand.  Parking is not an asset that is being “bled beyond reason” when you can’t find a parking space anywhere downtown at night.  Demand is greater than the supply of spaces.  Clearly, the city has room to charge more (or in this case, begin charging) for those spaces at night.  Time will tell if the same $1.50/hr. rate will hold up for the 5PM - 9PM slot, but I would be willing bet a large sum of money that this has no negative effect on activity downtown whatsoever.

There are also so, so many places to park downtown that require no payment, including Yale’s various parking lots, which gogogordon mentioned.  If you can’t afford the $3 on top of your dinner out, feel free to walk a little further from one of these very free, parking space-laden lots.

It’s not so much “love it or leave it” as it is “stop the constant complaining about every minor inconvenience.”

posted by: Truth Avenger on June 1, 2012  5:26pm

AvonLady… You are right- it’s damn tough to find a parking space-evenings. Competition is fierce. Sometimes I have even done an about face downtown and gone back home for lack of a space. Just given up.  So add little insult to injury and make people pay through the nose, on top of having to drive for blocks trying to find a space- if they ever find one. (Yale lots fill up fast too)

I for one am thrilled that New Haven has a prosperous life after dark.  I would be more inclined to be part of that scenario if I knew that parking wasn’t always going to be gobbling up discretionary dollars. Just because parking is in demand, doesn’t mean the City has to exploit the situation and its citizens in the process. Greedy cities are not livable cities. This is not about inconvenience- it’s about creating disincentives and making downtown less accessible for many, no matter how you try to justify this latest incursion into citizen’s pocket books.

posted by: independenteye on June 1, 2012  6:07pm

I think the problem is that you believe downtown and the city are thriving (like Bethesda).  Unfortunately the city is bankrupt and new haven only appears to be thriving because Yale can’t leave.  The only way for the city to thrive is to encourage visitors.  With few exceptions, downtown businesses are suffering.  Luckily Yale will be here and soon gateway.

posted by: William Kurtz on June 4, 2012  1:24pm

“I will say it again, since apparently it’s not getting through.  It’s a simple matter of supply and demand.  Parking is not an asset that is being “bled beyond reason” when you can’t find a parking space anywhere downtown at night.  Demand is greater than the supply of spaces. “

You can say it as often as you like; it’s categorically not true for much of the week. For all the talk of market-based and dynamic parking fees, that is not what this is. If it was, early in the week, when the streets are nearly empty, parking would be much less expensive or free. On weekend evenings, when it’s a premium, it would be more expensive.