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Lauren Bateman targeted Medford Square as a potential home for her new music school while preparing to open the business several years ago.
But then the Medford resident learned the city was getting ready to implement a new parking enforcement program, adding parking kiosks and meters in Medford Square and the city’s other business districts.
“There were spaces that were open in Medford Square that I was looking at,” said Bateman, owner of LB Music School. “But as soon as I heard they were going to put the meters in, I said, ‘Absolutely not.’”
Instead, Bateman picked a space on Central Avenue where her customers park for free. More importantly, they don’t have to fuss with meters or fret about getting a ticket — two reasons Bateman no longer visits Medford Square herself.
“I used to go all the time,” she said. “Not that 25 or 50 cents is going to break my bank account. It’s more of just the principle. It’s that whole thing of, ‘Am I going to get a ticket?’ I’d just rather not have to worry about it.”
Bateman’s thinking represents the fear many business owners expressed before Medford launched its new pay-to-park program in January 2015, a major change in a city that for decades had enforced parking time limits sporadically at best.
One year into the program, feedback from business owners is mixed. Some said the program has scared away customers and hurt business. Others said the new kiosks and meters have opened up spaces near their shops, which has in turn boosted business.
“We’ve been hearing both ways,” said Medford Chamber of Commerce President Charlotte Scuderi. “Some of the merchants are happy that there are parking spaces. But some of the people working in the Square are having a difficult time.”
There was, however, consensus from business owners on one thing: the kiosks. In each of the city’s five commercial districts, owners of coffee shops and hardware stores, restaurants and realty offices agreed the kiosks cause major frustration.
“Most places you have to pay, which is not a problem,” said Celine Kelly, owner of Depot Square Grille in West Medford Square. “But it’s just the inconvenience of the kiosks.”
Since the day the kiosks became active last winter, Kelly has kept a sign in the window of her restaurant that reads: “WE HAVE CHANGE FOR PARKING METERS. NO CHARGE FOR OUR CUSTOMERS.”
But she said business has declined over the past year, in part because of the new parking program.
“They told me they won’t come back,” Kelly said, of some of her former customers. “I have a sign in the window — I’m willing to pay for anybody.”
West Medford resident Jaime Cheah said she hasn’t bothered to visit the city’s business areas, especially Medford Square, nearly as much since the kiosks and meters went live. Part of her decision is based on the kiosks.
“I would have preferred the meters,” Cheah said. “I carry quarters in my car for that reason.”
Medford’s parking kiosks accept quarters, in addition to credit or debit cards. But Cheah said the kiosks create too much of a hassle, adding she has had to wait in line to use a kiosk on at least one occasion.
“Standing in line behind somebody for 5 to 10 minutes [to pay] is just ridiculous,” she said. “As a parent who doesn’t have a ton of time, you’re going to have to make it appealing for me to shop in Medford if you want to spend money in Medford. It doesn’t help that Assembly Row is five minutes away by car and has a plethora of free parking, and everything is right there. Even Wellington and Fellsway Plaza are already a step ahead.”
Business owners in multiple areas said in addition to being difficult to use, the kiosks have malfunctioned on a frequent basis.
“A lot of the kiosks at times are really not working properly,” said Scuderi, citing issues with viewing the kiosk screens or kiosks not accepting coins. “I would love to see parking meters where you can put money in. I think that’s the biggest objection. If you could feed the meter, you’d probably be better off.”
Eliminating the kiosks is not an option under consideration by the city, which would owe Republic between $800,000 to $1 million to remove the kiosks.
Mayor Stephanie Muccini Burke was scheduled to meet last month with Republic Parking District Manager Daniel Nash to evaluate the program’s first year and discuss ways to improve it.
Burke said potential changes include offering a preloadable parking card, reintroducing the “ambassador program” to teach visitors how to use the kiosks and setting up accounts for business owners allowing them to add time to a customer’s space.
Nash said he would also recommend Republic and the city send a survey to business owners to solicit feedback from the program’s first year.
“I’d love to see a meeting with the chamber, the mayor and the businesses to talk about what works,” Scuderi said. “I know there’s a way it will work. I just think it will be making changes to make the program better.”
Meters better than kiosks
Mystic Coffee Roaster owner Sharon Hepburn has observed plenty of issues with the new parking kiosks, and Republic’s methods. But business at her Riverside Avenue shop has actually improved since the program took effect.
“Since January of last year, our business is up about 25 percent,” she said. “I think it is [related]. Part of it is probably because Bestseller’s [Café] closed.”
Hepburn said only one regular has stopped visiting her coffee shop because of the new kiosks and meters, as far as she knows. And though she doesn’t think there are fewer visitors to the Square since the program started, she wishes the city had attempted to control parking by monitoring time limits — without kiosks or meters.
“They really never tried enforcing the parking,” Hepburn said. “They were just never consistent.”
Hepburn would also have preferred meters to kiosks, which she said have not worked on numerous occasions, especially in the cold. In fact, she added the kiosk outside her shop did not work for an entire month.
“I don’t think there would be as many complaints,” she said, of meters compared to kiosks. “I think it would be a much more straightforward thing.”
Medford Electronics owner John Costas agreed.
“As much as I don’t like the look of meters, I’d like to see them replace the kiosks with meters,” he said.
The parking program isn’t the only obstacle currently facing the Square: Since last summer, the Cradock Bridge reconstruction project has meant business owners and customers dealing with a construction site in the middle of the area.
“They knew that bridge was going to be done. It’s just too much all at once,” said Kelly Catallo, owner of Cosmopolitan Real Estate. “They’re expecting too much of the business owners in Medford Square.”
Catallo said the parking program has forced some business owners to leave.
“We’re dealing with too much,” she said. “If it was a thriving business community, then I could understand. But Medford’s still growing. It’s still trying to fill its shoes.”
Business owners also reported issues with Republic’s enforcement of lots designated for business employees. Hepburn said despite purchasing a business permit (which costs $100/year), she received eight tickets — by error — for parking in business lots.
She went to Republic’s Medford office and was told she shouldn’t have received the tickets and the company would waive them.
“Three days later, I go back to my car, there’s a ticket on my window — right next to the [permit] sticker,” she said. “I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’”
Hepburn said she prefers having some type of parking enforcement rather than none. But she hopes the program improves.
“It just seems like it’s not really working right now,” she said. “But I certainly wouldn’t want to go back to [no enforcement]. I think the mayor or somebody really needs to talk to them and figure it out.”
As part of a series evaluating the parking program one year into operation, the Transcript visited business owners in all five of the city’s designated business districts. Here’s what they had to say:
West Medford Square
Joan Gatto, Magnificent Muffin & Bagel Shoppe
MT: How much has business suffered since the start of the parking program?
Gatto: “I haven’t done the numbers. But going just day to day, from January to January, maybe $50/day.”
Jim Wright, Paul Revere Restaurant
MT: Have the kiosks and meters affected business?
Wright: “Honestly, in a positive way. This time of day before, you couldn’t find a place to park. I used to have customers drive around the block three times without finding a spot.”
Tony Massa, Hillside True Value Hardware
MT: What are your thoughts about the parking program?
Massa: “I just think that the program was introduced kind of quickly. I don’t think a lot of people know how the kiosks work. The elderly people have a lot of trouble with it. If the city could reeducate them, that they’re not paying for a parking space but for parking time … I just think if the city could educate the people a little more so they can coordinate their trips.”
Deia Pereira, Café Deia
MT: What effect has the program had in South Medford?
Pereira: “There’s an opportunity for everybody to park now. I think it’s a good thing. People just have to get used to the [kiosks and meters].”
Robert Giordano, Arthur’s Pastry Shop
MT: Has the program affected business? And how could it be improved?
Giordano: “It has hurt us a little. They should have just made a rule — the first 15 minutes free.”
George Yiotis, Dempsey’s Breakfast & Lunch
MT: What differences have you noticed since the program began?