On the Main Line and elsewhere, parking kiosks win scorn, praise, and revenue

Steven Noland arrived for work on a Tuesday afternoon in Wayne, found a parking space, and typed the three-digit number of his space on the kiosk’s keyboard to park there for two hours. Or so he thought.

Noland returned later to find a ticket, issued half an hour after he had left. He had paid for space 229. But he was parked in spot 230.

“The way the spots are marked, it’s kind of misleading,” said the 45-year-old West Philadelphia resident, a health-care services contractor who was working at Genesis HealthCare. He drove right to the Radnor Township police station to explain his mistake, but he was told his only option was to fight the ticket in court.

“It was ludicrous,” he said.

“We hear a lot of complaints,” said Bob D’Amicantonio, co-owner of Angelo D’Amicantonio & Son men’s shoe store in Wayne, which serves many elderly customers. “They blame the merchants,” said Dale Hunt, owner of the Antique Store in Wayne.

But the township, police, and the merchants association say Radnor’s park-by-number system and the kiosks represent a dramatic improvement over the old coin-only meter.

“We’re extremely happy with them,” said Christopher Flanagan, the Radnor police superintendent, adding that the department has heard “a lot of positive comments.”

Both the irritation and enthusiasm aimed at the kiosks that have sprouted throughout the region seem to stem from the same fundamental principle: People don’t like change — in both senses.

Technology continues to evolve to make paying for parking more convenient with kiosks that accept cards replacing coin-only meters, and smartphone apps replacing or complementing kiosks. Radnor has just under 1,000 numbered spaces and about 40 kiosks it installed a few years ago, said Flanagan.

He said the township is proud of its technologically advanced kiosks, which accept cards, cash and coins; can be turned off for special events; and offer 10 minutes of free parking. They’re an alternative to the parking mobile app the township started using a year or two ago, and they don’t clutter sidewalks like meters did. The kiosks draw power from solar panels on their heads.

Most drivers have used the kiosks without incident, but some feel left behind or make mistakes. Those who have had problems with them — including some seniors — are vocal in their opposition.

“Most of my customers are still using flip phones,” said Hunt, owner of the antiques shop.

Several merchants in Wayne said they often go out to help elderly people who get confused or can’t make out the writing on the kiosk screens. Sometimes they pay for their customers’ parking. Several business owners also observed that some people are intimidated by the kiosks.

Hunt said a customer from out of town told him he’d never come back to his store. Hunt said he has gone to district court hearings with customers to fight their tickets.

It’s not a gripe exclusive to Wayne.

Haddonfield installed parking kiosks a decade ago in parking lots and still gets occasional complaints about them, said Deborah Fesi, a parking enforcement officer there for 18 years. She said she is used to hearing excuses and abuse. “I’ve pretty much heard it all,” she said.

“People, no matter what, are going to complain,” said Chris Todd, owner of and chef at Christopher’s A Neighborhood Place and president of the Wayne Business Association. “People hated the meters when they were here.”

Todd said he had a customer who was having trouble with a kiosk and “wanted to punch the thing.” Todd walked her through the instructions. “By the end, I had her laughing,” he said.

Customers no longer ask his cashiers to make change for parking. He said the updated system is “a lot more convenient.”

“The rest of the world is going to kiosks,” Todd said.

Jonathan Stone, who owns a dental practice on West Lancaster Avenue around the corner from the restaurant, said that sometimes his patients “don’t even know there are kiosks.”

“They don’t see a sign or a meter, so they park and walk away,” he said.

Kathy Middleton, a receptionist at Stone’s office, said: “You feel bad, because it’s an innocent mistake.”

Middleton said that, one day, a kiosk took her money but didn’t confirm the transaction. She called the police to explain what happened, and she didn’t get a ticket. Similarly, Radnor police said that anyone who taps in an incorrect space number and notifies police right away won’t get a citation.

Flanagan said the township tries to work with people to resolve problems, such as when it adjusted the brightness on the kiosks’ screens to fight sun glare in response to complaints. “We want to make the experience of coming to Radnor the best as possible,” said Flanagan.

As for Nolan, the contractor, last week, seven months after he got his ticket, he finally got his chance to explain the mix-up to a judge. He waited with his parking receipt in district court with about a dozen drivers cited for speeding, including a young man who had driven a Subaru more than double the speed limit in a 55-mile-per-hour zone.

District Judge Leon Hunter III immediately dismissed Noland’s case, because no one from the township’s parking department came to court. That’s the rule rather than the exception: The parking attendant who wrote the ticket has to be present at the hearing, and that rarely happens.

Hunter said he gets about 10 parking hearing requests a week, more than he ever got when the township used meters.

He said that Noland was in good company: “Ninety-nine percent of them are upstanding citizens who made a mistake.”