Smart parking meters are coming to downtown Metuchen

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METUCHEN — The public can stop scrounging around for their quarters – smart parking meters are coming to Metuchen as early as May.

The Borough Council approved the Parking Authority’s proposal to upgrade all curbside parking meters in the core of the downtown area through a resolution at a council meeting on Feb. 5.

John Defoe, chair of the parking authority, said officials have been interested in upgrading to smart meters not only for the customers and visitors to the downtown, but to enable the parking authority to better manage parking in the area.

“There are about 500 parking meters in Metuchen located curbside from the CYO [at St. Francis Cathedral School] right down Main [Street], Amboy [Avenue] past the [Middlesex] Greenway overpass,” he said.

Defoe said meters are on all the streets off of Main Street in the business district — Highland and Hillside avenues, Pearl Street, Center Street, Station Place, Pennsylvania Avenue and along Wernik Place.

The proposal calls for the purchase of 218 smart meters, 18 of which would be on hand for needed replacements.

“The quote for the meters is $117,705, not including an estimate of $1,200 for shipping costs, sleeves and bases,” Defoe said, noting that the purchase does not require bids for the meters.

The council approved the parking authority’s request for the expenditure of funds from the parking authority’s capital improvement account not to exceed $140,000.

Defoe said there would also be additional costs for spray painting the poles, assembly of the meters and drilling new holes for new meters near Whole Foods and along the constriction area on Woodside Avenue. He said officials would look into whether or not the spray painting can be handled by the Department of Public Works or through an outside contractor.

“We expect the project to be completed for less than $140,000 and assuming there are no serious problems, we probably would look at early May for installation,” he said. “We believe that it’s the curbside meters in the heart of the downtown which are the ones most beneficial to be replaced with smart meters.”

New smart meters will be installed by the Whole Foods Market where parking meters do not currently exist.

“[The area is] heavily used for parking and we believe [the area] would be best and more efficiently served with the smart meters,” Defoe said.

The parking authority will purchase the meters from IPS Group Inc., headquartered in San Diego, through the New Jersey Cooperative Pricing System.

Defoe said IPS Group Inc. has been selling smart technology since 2007. IPS has a quarter of a million meters over 250 municipalities throughout the United States, he said.

“There are over 4,000 [smart meters] in New Jersey and are locally used by New Brunswick that has 825 [smart meters], and Somerville has 325 meters and seven pay stations,” Defoe said.

Defoe said while IPS Group Inc. has about 15 customers using more than 1,000 meters, most of their customers have much fewer meters, like Metuchen would.

He said for the past several years, the parking authority had a number of companies come in to discuss smart meters capable of being controlled by a computer and providing real data on parking and finances.

The parking authority currently uses a manual system.

“In 2017, we narrowed [the decision] to three companies who we felt were most promising,” Defoe said. “The three companies made formal presentations and we selected IPS, who we felt had the meters and systems and services to serve Metuchen’s needs.”

Defoe said although IPS corporate headquarters is in California, there is local support in New Jersey.

“Ongoing support is from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and emergency support is 24/7,” he said.

Defoe said the initial rollout will allow for the smart meters to take Visa and MasterCard transactions. Cash and coins will still be a payment option. In the future, Defoe said the borough can decide on additional payment methods that can be phased in including Apple Pay, Android Pay or Google Wallet.

“IPS has its own park smarter pay-by-cell system and it’s our preference if we would be dealing [through one company],” he said.

The smart meters will be solar powered and have a rechargeable battery backup.

“The life expectancy [of a smart meter is] 24-36 months depending on the usage parameters,” Defoe said.

Defoe said the meters will be manufactured in the United States, and the backup office systems are also in the States.

“The meter has as 12-month warranty,” he said, adding that the meters will be retrofitted into the space where the existing meters are.

Defoe said users can have alerts sent to their cell phones on expired parking time. The users could then remotely use a credit card to pay for additional time.

The management system is wireless. Notifications are sent to the system on any malfunction, such as a card reader failure or a coin jam. The system will be notified if the coin box is at 80 percent capacity.

“A malfunction does not necessarily shut down a meter,” Defoe said. “Coin jams allow credit card pay-by-cell to continue. The meter will display messages to that effect and vice versa.”

Defoe said the display on an individual, some or all the meters can be changed remotely.

“Parking rates or time limits can be different at different times, days, special events, and rates can be progressive,” he said. “New Brunswick loves progressive rates where you pay less for the first hour and then as time goes, you pay more.”

Defoe said the borough will have to decide if the progressive rates would be appropriate in Metuchen.

Another feature that is available is an open space system letting users know if a space is available, which Defoe said can be decided at a later time if the feature is necessary for Metuchen.

Defoe said the smart meters will allow the parking authority to gather data on parking habits, when and how long people are parking for, peak demand times, credit card fees, coin collection, meter downtime enforcement reports and high violation areas.

After the smart meters are implemented in the downtown area, the installation of the meters in the parking lots will be next phase of the project.

Defoe said the parking lots near the train station are NJ Transit lots.

“We simply manage [the lots],” he said, adding that discussions with NJ Transit have been enthusiastic as far as assisting the borough with funding the smart meters for the lots.

Members of the council were in favor of the proposal as well as replacing the meters on the southern end of Main Street in the initial rollout, which includes some on Amboy Avenue and a small parking lot of 11 meters.

The parking authority would use 11 of the 18 extra smart meters in the purchase for the small parking lot on the south side.

Borough officials are also looking into the possibility of attaching bike racks to the smart meter poles, which will match the street light poles along Main Street.

As for a timeframe, Defoe said all the preparation work can be pre-done and all the meters could be installed within a day.

Training on the system will be provided by IPS during the roll out.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@newspapermediagroup.com.