Parking Enforcement in Tisbury Is Major Year-Round Business

By ALEXIS TONTI

After chipping away for years at traffic problems in Vineyard Haven, the Tisbury selectmen are now considering an overhaul of the town's parking regulations in order to relieve congestion in the downtown area.

"Traffic flow and parking go hand in hand. With a better parking system, traffic flow will improve," Tisbury police chief Theodore (Ted) Saulnier said this week.

The parking plan proposed by the police chief takes a comprehensive look at the downtown and assesses each of the lots and neighborhood parking areas. It goes on to recommend changes to signage and parking restrictions - most significant being the elimination of the four-hour spaces on most of the roads off Main street.

Chief Saulnier said those spots are frequently abused by people taking the ferry off-Island.

"Everyone wants to park as close as they can to the Steamship Authority all year-round, whenever they travel. I have overheard conversations on the ferry about how people will skirt the parking regulations in those four-hour spots and laughing about it," he said. "The town could do a lot more in helping itself by changing those spaces to two hours."

The pressures on the town from Steamship Authority traffic are only one part of the problem, according to the chief. The town's status as the Island's most vital year-round community also draws people into the downtown area throughout the year.

Mr. Saulnier's proposed plan is just the latest in an ongoing effort by town officials to ease the problem that residents named as one of the most critical issues faced by the town in a planning board survey conducted two years ago.

And looking at revenue coming into the town from parking fines, it's clear the problem hasn't slackened since then: in fiscal year 2004, Tisbury collected nearly $125,000 in parking ticket revenue - more than all of the other Island towns combined.

The town was not always so vigilant.

Over three years, from FY 2000 through FY 2002, the three down-Island towns were all in the same ballpark when it came to ticket revenue - averaging $57,630 in Edgartown, $48,702 in Oak Bluffs and $59,577 in Vineyard Haven.

But in FY 2003, revenue to the town of Tisbury suddenly doubled to $118,307. Edgartown and Oak Bluffs remained fairly static, at $52,709 and $43,906.

The same went for FY 2004. Edgartown collected $50,256 and Oak Bluffs $44,083 to Tisbury's $124,625.

The reasons for the differences among towns vary.

Part of it stems from the fact that, unlike the other down-Island towns, Tisbury does not have a two-tiered system of enforcement. Edgartown, for example, adjusts its enforcement policies depending on the time of the year, relaxing its rules after the crush of summer has passed.

But Chief Saulnier said a similar system wouldn't work for Vineyard Haven because of its year-round parking pressures. "There is no off-season with us. We are sometimes as jammed in January and February as we are in August," he said.

Chief Saulnier also said the change in revenue likely was due to a policy change he implemented after being named to the department's top post several years ago.

"I saw a shortfall in terms of the parking collection program, so we put into place some procedures and policies for ensuring the fines were sought. You can put tickets on car windows all you want, but if you don't collect then the whole system is ineffective," he said.

He added that some businesses go so far as to treat the tickets as a business expense, sometimes paying thousands of dollars a year.

Other elements of the parking proposal include:

* Changing the parking restrictions on the side roads off Main street from four-hour limits to two-hour limits.

* Raising the maximum allowable parking fine to $25.

* Eliminating parking signs throughout the downtown area by posting "gateway signs" at several key points of entry to the town, advising motorists that parking is for two hours only unless otherwise posted.

* Promoting the Park and Ride.

The Park and Ride - the satellite lot off upper State Road with shuttle service to downtown - has been around for a decade but still hasn't caught on with many Island residents. But town officials still believe it can help alleviate congestion and parking problems.

To boost interest, free seven-day parking and a free shuttle to meet the SSA ferries were added last year. Ridership has increased since then, but the service is still underutilized.

"We are trying to have the public enjoy free parking. It's a great service that the town has spent a million-plus to provide for the Island - for the whole Island," said selectman Ray LaPorte.

"We can't have done more for trying to relieve the neighborhoods of excess parking and to accommodate the business community short of building a parking garage of some kind," Mr. LaPorte said.

Selectman Tristan Israel also said the community needs to use the Park and Ride lot and public transportation system more.

Mr. Israel added that changes in parking policy are part of the broader discussion about community policing. "We need to strike a balance. We have to enforce our regulations, but we also want our community to be a friendly one," he said.