Many Garden State communities, particularly ones featuring rail service to Manhattan, find themselves facing a similar issue: lack of parking. In light of that dilemma, Summit devised an innovative solution which allows its resident commuters to travel comfortably to and from its train station yet leave their cars at home.
As of Monday, Dec. 4, Lyft Inc. drivers have been providing Summit residents with prepaid parking permits for free trips to and from the Summit train station as the Hilltop City entered into a one-year extension of its ride-sharing program. Trips must originate within Summit and be completed Monday through Friday between the hours of 5 a.m. and 11 p.m.
City Administrator Michael Rogers noted that currently 200 residents are enrolled in the program, which evolved as a way to, at least temporarily, resolve Summit’s commuter parking woes.
“When I started in Summit in 2015, there was a lot of contention focused on parking demand,” he said. “Looking at infrastructure, building more supply would address the problem, but it would be a very expensive option. The community spoke and voiced great opposition to it, so the city put on it hold, but that did nothing to address the scarcity of parking within the existing infrastructure.”
Rogers said he began to think about convenience as the hallmark of customer service. With that in mind, he started to look for ways to free up spots within its current parking structures and lots. Exploring the idea of Uber as a tentative fix, Summit ran a holiday promotion in 2015 that offered residents $5 rides anywhere that started and ended in Summit.
“This way residents didn’t have to worry about parking downtown,” Rogers said. “The could take an Uber car, shop and eat, have a drink, and get a ride back home.”
That led the Union County community, with a population of 22,000, to partner with Uber for a pilot program that ran from 2016 -2017. But after surveying resident commuters, Rogers discovered that many weren’t taking advantage of the program due to scheduling difficulties.
“We learned people want to be able to schedule rides and sometimes there was a lag time between when they requested the car and when it was available, which resulted in them missing the train or being late,” he explained.
With Lyft, not only can residents request a ride on demand, but they can also schedule a one up to seven days in advance. Rogers said he hopes to see more residents using the program.
According to Lyft, Summit residents without prepaid permits can also access this “virtual parking garage” at a cost of $2 per ride — the equivalent of the Summit’s $4 daily parking.
Driving a new conversation
As other communities, particularly those located along train lines, find themselves facing similar parking constraints, many are reaching out to inquire about the ride-sharing program. Rogers noted that he’s been contacted by administrators in Ridgewood, NJ as well those others in Boston, Connecticut, New York, and even California.
Nancy Adams, director of Summit Downtown Inc. and Deputy Mayor of Maplewood, is said to be considering the program for Maplewood.
Rogers noted that the program has helped glean insight into the behaviors of commuters.
“We’ve learned why some residents don’t use it. They want to walk or get dropped off. They want to run errands that take them outside of Summit so they take the car. Some just like to drive their car,” he said.
Summit Chief Communications Officer Amy Cairns explained that one of the most interesting things residents have shared is that the program has changed the way they think about their car. Early adopters and those who use the service most often noted that they are now able to leave a car for their nanny or not have to worry about purchasing an extra car.
Rogers agreed and said providing this service has even attracted some new residents to the area.
“When determining which community they want to live it, we’ve heard that having this service has played into the decision-making process, especially for renters who commute but don’t necessarily want to buy a car,” he said.
Taking a “no news is good news” approach, Rogers said things in Summit have been “quiet” since the Lyft extension began Monday, but added that the city will survey residents at the end of the first quarter to gather feedback on the program.