NEW BEDFORD — Parking at metered spots in downtown New Bedford will soon get a little more expensive, while rates at the city’s downtown parking garages are set to decrease.

City officials are hoping that the rate increases for on-street spots in the most popular downtown area coupled with lower prices at the Zeiterion and Elm Street garages could open up parking availability for visitors and customers stopping downtown.

That’s the main idea behind the change, according to New Bedford parking clerk Laurie Alfonso.

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The switch comes from recommendations in a 2019 parking study that were approved by a Sept. 15 Traffic Commission vote.

“Today there is a lack of available parking in on-street spaces in the Downtown Core,” the study reads. “While spaces being busy reflects New Bedford’s vibrant and active downtown, it also sends a signal to customers that parking is hard to find.”

“In order to create availability where there is congestion it is necessary to raise prices at prime, busy on-street locations…[and] maintain relatively low prices at other locations further from restaurants and key destinations.”

How much will parking cost?

On-street parking meters in the city’s most popular “green meter” core zone from Sixth Street to Front Street between Elm and Union Streets are set to go up from 75 cents to $1.25 per hour.

Just outside that area, “blue” spots will increase from 75 cents to $1 per hour, while the “yellow” meter spots surrounding the downtown area will not change.

At the same time, rates at the city’s two downtown parking garages will decrease from $3 per hour to $2 per hour, with the maximum daily rate decreasing from $18 to $12.

According to the study, changing the rates to $2 per hour for on-street parking and $1.50 per hour for garage parking could increase city parking revenues roughly by an estimated 70%.

The changes ultimately approved by the city were less drastic.

When will it start?

Although labels on the parking meters have already been switched to reflect the new rates, they have not yet gone into effect.

Alfonso said the price changes will likely take effect in the next couple of weeks, and definitely by the end of the month. 

She noted that the study was done in collaboration with business owners and other community stakeholders downtown.

But at least one stakeholder said he was not made aware of the proposal.

“I just wonder if the city consulted with the Chamber of Commerce, the EDC or the City Council before making the decision,” said local business owner Christopher O’Neil.

“I think an argument for the increase should have been made publicly with a transparent display of the total costs to maintain the traffic department before a 40% increase in the parking rate was approved.”

“I didn’t see anything as a downtown business owner,” he added.

What do people think?

Many community members have expressed outrage online at the idea of increasing on-street parking prices.

I think it is again an example of how small businesses are not supported,” said Union Street business owner Cheri Petitpas, who noted that between coronavirus and downtown construction, a lot of local companies have already suffered financial losses.

“Add in raising the meters and you are basically saying ‘We honestly don't care if you stay in business,’” she said. “I had clients sending screenshots of the new rates this week.”

As for the idea that downtown residents and workers will use the garages instead, O’Neil said people near his Union Street building won’t use them due to distance.

And Petitpas noted that crime is rampant in those areas at night.

“It’s not safe and I don’t feel comfortable,” she said.

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