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Mayor Narkewicz personally settles $1 parking dispute

  • After Bill Pharmer accidentally paid a city parking kiosk after 6 p.m., he insisted upon a refund. His persistent requests landed him this personal response and refund from Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Phil Demers of Northampton places coins in a parking kiosk Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016, in downtown Northampton. —Andrew J. Whitaker/GAZETTE STAFF



@amandadrane
Thursday, June 15, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — Habitual downtown parkers likely know the city stops enforcing pay-to-park spaces at 6 p.m., but how easy is it for visitors to glean that information?

That question sent one man on a mission last week. Bill Pharmer, who accidentally paid a city parking kiosk after 6 p.m. on June 7, insisted on a refund from the city’s Parking Division. When he wasn’t satisfied with the response, the issue landed on Mayor David Narkewicz’s desk.

In a rare move, the mayor saw fit to give Pharmer $1 out of his own pocket to resolve the issue.

“You’ve got to really know the city,” Pharmer said upon gaining a better understanding of how the city’s parking system works. “It’s not my one dollar. It’s all the other thousands of people who have lost the dollar and didn’t know what to do.”

Pharmer, who has homes in both Northampton and Hershey, Pennsylvania, was heading to dinner at Viva Fresh Pasta around 6 p.m. It was raining, so he dropped his wife off in front of the restaurant while he searched for a space to park.

“I finally found one at 6:15 p.m.,” he said of the spot he found in the municipal lot on Masonic Street. “I didn’t know it was after 6 o’clock.”

In a handwritten note, Mayor David Narkewicz apologized for the unfortunate experience with the city’s parking system, and promised a more user-friendly system is on the way.

The city stops enforcing pay-to-park at 6 p.m. Upon realizing his mistake, Pharmer tried getting his $1 back but the machine offered no such mechanism.

Pharmer argues the kiosk should stop accepting payment after 6 p.m., as is the case with kiosks along Main Street. But Narkewicz said kiosks in the lots are designed to continue accepting payment into the evening for overnight parking purposes. Money paid after 6 p.m. yields time tacked onto the following morning, so that residents who live in neighboring buildings can park overnight and not worry about moving their car promptly at 8 a.m.

“It’s not a complaint we get very often,” Narkewicz said, though current kiosk technology doesn’t allow the parking department to track how frequently people pay the kiosk after 6 p.m.

In any case, Narkewicz said new digital hardware — equipped with LED lighting — coming to the kiosks at month’s end will go a long way toward addressing misunderstandings like this one.

“Hopefully by providing that information and making it easier to use, there will be fewer situations when people are ticketed because they didn’t understand,” Narkewicz said.

“But also it will make it easy for people to use so when they do come to Northampton they can find a parking space, so they’re not spending time driving in circles, or worse: deciding to go somewhere else.”

Narkewicz said he’s still working out contractual details, but the city will upgrade downtown parking kiosks over several days between late June and early July. The new system will allow people to pay by phone and also pay by credit card.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@gazettenet.com.