The idea of placing new, credit-card friendly parking meters and carrying out other changes in the so-called high-traffic areas of Rockport's downtown may not make a dent in the town's longtime parking crunch.
But the moves should at least make downtown parking more convenient and welcoming to visitors and residents alike. In that vein, a pilot program to essentially try out the new meters and even a new rule or two for a 90-day period beginning Aug. 1 is well worth a long-hard look — in part because the time frame seems ideal for gauging any impact over not only the summer tourism season, but also into the fall.
The pilot project, approved by the town's Board of Selectmen last week, calls for Rockport to begin using new, solar-powered, electronically-operated meters from the telecommunications company ISP Group along parts of Main Street, through Dock Square, over to T-Wharf, and along parts of Beach and Granite streets. Yes, the new meters will continue to take change — but they'll also be usable for parkers who simply want to swipe their credit cards to cover their metered time. That's a convenience to residents and visitors who will at least not have to hunt down the right change the meters might and might not accept.
The town will also fine-tune its meter schedule, shifting away from the current 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. meter monitoring to new hours of 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. That should allow the town to add revenue from folks who are indeed out and about after 6 p.m., dining or visiting shops perhaps before a show at the Shalin Liu Performance Center. And, as Police Chief John "Tom" McCarthy rightfully noted, it will extend a couple hours of free parking to a number of Rockport residents, who are far more likely than visitors to be out and about between 8 and 10 a.m. and can feel free starting Aug. 1 to ignore the meter while making a quick stop for a morning coffee.
Down the road, town officials are looking to boost the meter rates. That's something that will need a public hearing and more input from residents and local businesses, who should be among the beneficiaries, not victims, of these types of changes.
But in the short term, a 90-day pilot effort should indeed give officials and residents a clear idea of what these meters and other changes can mean in terms of increases revenues and — perhaps more importantly — fewer downtown parking headaches and hassles. That means it's worth a try.