August 09, 2023
When Stone Harbor debuted a new app to collect parking payments in May, the technology instantly made the borough's police department ultraefficient at doling out tickets in the shore town. The number of parking tickets issued that month jumped to 564 compared to just 33 the previous May, when Stone Harbor was still using a kiosk payment system.
Then in June, Stone Harbor officials said more than 900 parking tickets were issued. Each carries a $34 fee. The total for July has not been tallied, yet.
The spike in violations has led to an influx calls the Avalon/Stone Harbor Municipal Court to dispute their parking tickets or complain about the new system, the Press of Atlantic City reported.
Drivers who were ticketed aren't the only ones unhappy with Stone Harbor's parking situation — officials Avalon weren't happy either, because the volume of calls was bogging down courthouse operations.
Now, a seasonal employee has been added to the court's staff to handle matters related to parking in Stone Harbor. The person is expected to work 20 hours per week through the end of September.
“I met with the administrator in Stone Harbor to express the need for this additional help, and we mutually agreed this financial responsibility belongs to Stone Harbor,” Avalon Business Administrator Scott Wahl said. “When both towns had their separate courts, there were typically five employees involved. With the shared court, there are only two. The seasonal employee was required due to the significant increase in work attributable to the large increase in parking violations in Stone Harbor.”
Avalon and Stone Harbor entered an agreement in 2021 to share the court at the Avalon Borough Hall. The pact cut down administrative costs, saving the communities about $150,000 annually. It was also streamlined certain court operations. Many court employees now serve dual roles handling matters in both boroughs.
ParkMobile is an app that's widely used in the region to collect parking fees. It's made by the same company that developed Philadelphia's meterUp parking app. Similar systems are used in New York, Washington, D.C. and many communities in New Jersey. In Avalon, all public parking is free.
To use ParkMobile, motorists are encouraged to download the app — a step that many people visiting from out of town may not take before they arrive. Users must enter the vehicle's license plate number, vehicle make and model and a payment method. Alternatively, people who don't have the app can call the ParkMobile Service Line and relay the same information by phone.
Stone Harbor's parking zones are assigned five-digit codes. A driver enters the code into the app to designate where the car is located. And when time is running out on the parking space, the app sends notifications reminding the user to either extend the parking time via the app or move the car to avoid being ticketed.
The flipside of this setup is that Stone Harbor police can now rely on the app's log to determine when and where cars are parked beyond their allotted time. Officers can easily travel between parking zones to give out tickets. In the past, they had to look more closely to identify parking violations with the borough's kiosks and coin-operated meters.
At a council meeting in June, Stone Harbor Police Chief Thomas J. Schutta was unapologetic about the huge increase in parking violations. He said officers used to issue more warnings to motorists rather than write tickets. But since the app issues warnings to motorists before their time expires, Schutta said the seamless enforcement enabled by ParkMobile is justified, in his view.
Signs posted around Stone Harbor include information about ParkMobile, and the borough shared reminders on social media in May to prepare people for the switch. But it's not clear that people visiting Stone Harbor are sufficiently aware of the change.
Street parking in Stone Harbor is free during the offseason, but metered zones are in effect between May 1 and Oct. 1.
At the most recent council meeting in August, Stone Harbor officials said larger signs are being installed to inform drivers that they need to use ParkMobile in metered zones. If there isn't a meter next to a parking space, it doesn't mean that parking is free.
In the meantime, borough officials are evaluating ways to better help people adapt to ParkMobile.