By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
It’s been a little more than a month since Red Bank doubled curbside parking meter rates downtown, jacking the fees from 50 cents and hour to a dollar.
Borough officials made the move, which also included a 33-percent increase to permit fees, in part to put a tourniquet on a $10,000-a-month bleed from town coffers that began when free Saturday parking took effect in early 2009.
So how has it been working out?
Depends who you ask.
On the borough end, it’s too early to tell, Administrator Stanley Sickels said.
But if you stop into a store on Monmouth Street, chances are you’ll get everything but a human pyramid in favor of the new rates.
Steve Napolitani, a.k.a. Mr. Pizza Slice, said that for 40 years, employees have been hogging the parking spaces that should have been for customers. Nothing would get them to move, he said, until the borough boosted the rates.
Ask him about it sometime and you’ll see the angry side of Mr. Pizza Slice, where his eyes grow wide and a new vein emerges along his neck.
“It was pissing me off,” he said. “My pet peeve was parking. You’ve got to leave spots for customers.”
Napolitani is pleased as punch now, though. So is Tom Fishkin, owner of Readie’s Fine Foods, just a few doors down on Monmouth.
He had been pushing for a rate increase not to punish customers, but to push employees into the lots, which are still priced at 50 cents an hour. He, too, said employees had been taking up valuable spaces.
“April 1st, they disappeared,” he said. “It just worked. Money talks and everybody else walks.”
Sure, he feels bad that customers have to pay more to park, he said. But he hasn’t been getting many complaints. He said people prefer the convenience of parking in front of a store they want to visit, and will pay a little extra for it.
That may be true for many, but not among all those redbankgreen interviewed.
Carla Iannone had to stop into Readie’s to break a dollar so she could set aside two hours on the meter while she went to yoga class.
“How do you feel about the new rates?” redbankgreen asked.
“Annoyed,” Iannone, of Middletown, said. “I didn’t know. I thought something was wrong with the meter. I was lucky that I looked in the meter.”
Indeed, or she would have faced a stiff fine. Red Bank hits you with a $38 ticket for an expired meter.
Not knowing was the more annoying part for Iannone than actually forking over the extra change, she said. And Fishkin said that’s a common complaint being unaware and fearing that ticket.
Matthew Shubitz found himself in the same situation on Friday. He pulled up to Broad Street in a rush, threw a couple quarters in the meter and took off. When asked his thoughts on paying more to park, he looked puzzled.
“I didn’t even realize,” he said.
Others have taken note, though, and they’ll be damned if they dig deeper into their pockets to feed those metal beasts.
This can be done in a perfectly passive way, by parking in the municipal lots, as Oceanport resident Robert Meloni does. It’s his way of showing defiance to what he calls Red Bank’s “dope-fiend move.”
But if you’re dead-set on bucking the system, and even showing your backside as you do it, then you get a little more creative. Joe Spagnuolo, who spends hours nursing his coffee and newspapers at Zebu Forno, has made an art out of it.
Every day he drives his modest Hyundai Sonata from Fair Haven to Broad Street, finds a spot with time left on the meter and pulls in. When the meter expires, he hunts for another spot where somebody paid and left before their time ran out.
“Parking space jockeying, I call it,” he said.
He spends more a week on coffee than he does on parking, and he takes pride in that distinction.
“Sometimes I’m here all day for a quarter,” Spagnuolo said. “I love beating the parking meters.”
But like most people, sometimes he slips. And at the end of the day, that dollar you didn’t want to drop in, or forgot to, doesn’t look so bad when a white slip of paper is pressed between your windshield and wiper.
“They get their pound of flesh out of me,” Spagnuolo said.