Saturday, May 2, 2009

DOT to City Drivers: Take a (Meter) Hike! by Noah Rosenberg - The Queens Courier

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Congressmember Anthony Weiner (left) and State Senator Joe Addabbo (right) met with business owners and representatives of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation to discuss parking meter rate hikes along Jamaica Avenue.

Parking along Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven has long been a nightmare and a recent meter rate hike along the avenue and elsewhere in Queens has made matters even worse, area business owners say.

The New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) recently completed the reprogramming of close to 18,000 parking meters in Queens and expects to make meter changes citywide by the end of June. The changes, according to the DOT, affect 60 percent of city meters that, for the most part, have remained at the same rate of 25 cents per 30 minutes since 1992.

The city estimates that increasing the rates for single space parking meters to a quarter for 20 minutes will generate $16.8 million toward closing the budget gap for fiscal year 2010.

However, Steve Esposito, the President of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation (GWDC), thinks the rate increases were driven by a different motive.

While he would not disclose his source, Esposito, who is also an owner of the Orthopedic Shoe Clinic on Jamaica Avenue, said he has heard that the city expects to generate more than $60 million in parking fines alone, as a direct result of meter rate hikes that he says have not been well publicized.

“That was dirty and underhanded right then and there,” Esposito said, claiming that the DOT provided no notification that it had increased parking rates.

State Senator Joseph Addabbo and Congressmember Anthony Weiner recently took a trip down to Jamaica Avenue to meet with concerned residents and business owners and neither of the elected officials saw any signage.

In light of the fiscal situation, Addabbo said a few days after his press conference on the avenue, “Most people would be understanding of the issue if they were given proper notice.” But, he added, “Without giving notice, it sort of traps the residents and traps the store owners.”

“Once again we’re trying to balance the budget book on the backs of the working people,” Addabbo said, noting that there has been an increased presence of ticket agents on Jamaica Avenue since the meters were reprogrammed.

The DOT maintains that meter rate increases were “widely reported citywide.” Agency spokesperson Monty Dean noted that inserts indicating the new rate were installed as each meter was reprogrammed. In fact, Dean added that many businesses see meters as a plus and think higher rates may lead to increased turnover in front of stores.

But Esposito is not buying it.

“Basically what’s going to happen,” he said, “is that people are so used to 50 cents for an hour they’re going to put two quarters in and walk away without looking.”

Esposito is calling on the city to “at least take responsibility for the tickets they gave” before shoppers were aware of the increases, and he says the GWDC will take up the issue with the community board.

In the meantime, he and GWDC Executive Director Maria Thomson have printed out flyers for each of the 200 stores along Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven, alerting shoppers to the increased meter rates. But business owners realize that flyers may help reduce parking fines but do nothing to lure people into their stores.

“The economy’s not getting any better,” said Rich Dougherty, an Assistant Manager at Radio Shack on Jamaica Avenue. “People come in then realize they have to go feed the meter and they don’t come back.”