New Bedford's Port Authority is responding to the controversy surrounding the Park Board's decision to charge for parking at the city's handicapped-accessible playground.

As first reported by WBSM's Marcus Ferro, the New Bedford Board of Park Commissioners has unanimously approved a new pay-to-park program for the lot that serves Noah’s Place Playground. Multiple New Bedford city councilors and the man who spearheaded the construction of the park in his son's memory, Victor Fernandes, quickly came out against the new system.

In a statement released Tuesday evening, the New Bedford Port Authority said: "First and foremost, it is important for families with children with disabilities to understand that ANY vehicle displaying a valid disability placard/plate has free and unlimited duration parking access at ANY parking space located in Marine Park, whether metered or not, and whether designated as a handicap space or not."

According to the press release, there will be 25 dedicated free parking spaces available for families using Noah's Place Playground without disability placards on their vehicles.  Visitors who sign in via a phone-based app receive two free hours at the playground. These visitors receive a text message 15 minutes prior to the expiration of their two free hours. They can then choose to extend their time via phone.

The app will not automatically charge visitors for additional time if visitors fail to “check out” via the app. Visitors can simply leave at any time without taking further action, without concern about charges or enforcement.

The press release summarized the new policy:

"The policy reflects the overall priority placed on family needs: All vehicles with handicap placards/plates can park anywhere for free, for an unlimited duration. For the first time, dedicated spaces are provided to playground visitors. Families receive free parking for a period of time that covers the duration of many playground visits. And any revenues generated from parking will be redirected back into improvements on site."

Still, New Bedford City Councilor Ryan Pereira has concerns.

"It's not going to be a parking meter like it's just a meter that you feed," he said. "Grandma or Grandpa taking their grandkids to the playground are going to have to take out their smartphone and download an app or text a number and then enter credit card information."

Fernandes told WBSM's Tim Weisberg: “I thought they were going to do three to four hours for free."

He called the new policy a "slap in the face for the families that use the park, but also to those who donated money, time and physical labor."

The new paid parking policy will be seasonal and will be in place April 15 to Oct. 31.

Ultimate SouthCoast Playground Guide 2021

The Ultimate SouthCoast Playground Guide for 2021 features 48 public playgrounds throughout Southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island.