BERNARDS TWP., NJ _ For 10 months, since Verizon gated a lot on the other side of North Maple Avenue where Uber, Lyft and other drivers waited for calls to transport the corporation's employees, the vehicles-for-hire apparently moved their waiting area to nearby Brentwood Court and part of North Maple Avenue.
This week, after hearing the residents of that neighborhood plea for an end to the overflow of those drivers on their street, the lot has been reopened, Township Administrator Pat Monaco said on Tuesday.
Additionally, the township has proposed and introduced an ordinance that would prohibit parking on all of Brentwood Court and the affected portion of North Maple Avenue unless the vehicle is owned, leased, or operated by a resident, or belongs to a visitor or service business hired by a resident. Signs would be posted to that effect. Second reading and public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for the Jan. 29 Township Committee meeting.
Monaco reported at last week's Township Committee meeting that Verizon had that day ungated the lot for business hours, and also placed trash cans and installed a portable bathroom facility near the lot to try to address the complaints that resulted in the previous closure of the lot.
Earlier in January, Verizon Chief Security Officer Mike Mason told the Township Committee and residents that the lot would be reopened on a probationary basis as a further attempt to alleviate the concerns of the neighbors. Leaflets would be distributed to the for-hire drivers that had been congregating on local streets to let them know about the change.
Residents of Brentwood Court have in previous months approached the Township Committee with complaints that the littering, jostling vehicles, and loitering that had plagued the lot off North Maple Avenue before it was locked up had simply moved over to their moved to their street. Additionally, the residents said they had other problems unique to a residential neighbhood -- several said they were worried about their children being home alone or playing in the streets, and for their own personal safety, especially since they said the same drivers congregated on their street daily, and knew their routines.
One woman said she had been "stared down" by a driver whom she had repeatedly asked to move from in front of her mailbox so her mail could be delivered.
Another resident, Dr. William Ratz, said there had been a number of break-ins and robberies on the street, although none had been traced to the drivers for hire. "It's a safety issue," he added. Pulling a vehicle onto North Maple Avenue with cars blocking the view is dangerous, he noted.
Residents said they had called township police numerous times, who began enforcing no loitering prohibitions, but could not actually prevent the cars from parking on the street.
In a previous response to complaints from residents, Mason noted that Verizon had previously tried opening a lot a little less than a mile away where the car services were asked to wait to obtain driving jobs.
But many of the drivers apparently moved to Brentwood, closer to Verizon, because Uber and Lyft work by awarding a car for service to the closest vehicle taking their calls.
However, Mason said no place is closer than the reopened lot. The drivers must identify themselves before entering the corporate complex.
Other residents suggested that if no other attempts to solve the problem are successful, Verizon might try putting a "digital geofence" around their street, which would serve as a type of invisible fence to prevent drivers from getting a call.
Mason noted that not all of the drivers are from Uber or Lyft, both "ride-sharing" services, but some are from more traditional limousine services.
Township Committeeman John Carpenter praised Mason and Verizon for moving quickly after the previous week's discussion with residents.