Summit Council Votes to Extend Uber Ridesharing Program

Summit's Jonathan Kurowski arrives at the train station in October, 2016, as the first participant in the City of Summit / Uber ridesharing program. Credits: Greg Elliott / TAPinto Summit File Photo

SUMMIT, NJ—Stating that they, as a governing body, are looking for more data points to determine the program's success and long-term viability, the Summit Common Council, at its first meeting of October, once again extended the Uber ridesharing program to the Summit Train Station for another 60 days, with the extension set to bring the program to conclusion on December 2 of this year.

The program, first authorized in September 2016, gives discounted Uber rides to City residents from their homes to the train station under the theory that those commuters who do not take their cars to the station, thus freeing up parking spaces.

According to City parking agency estimates, from October 2016 through 2017, spaces for an average of 30 vehicles were opened up daily due to the program and, from February 2017 through August 2017, there were an average of 23 spaces opened up daily.

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The additional revenue for these spaces over the two time periods amounts to $23,328, according to the agency estimates. The total gross cost to the city for the 11 months was estimated at $57,928, based on the cost of subsidizing 1,250 pre-paid Uber trips. This means the city’s net cost for the 11 months was $34,600.

According to Council general services chairman Patrick Hurley, when the program began, with 100 commuters approved to participate, the estimated number of “virtual spaces” to be created by the program would be about 20 to 30, and data collected thus far shows the rate to be about where it was estimated.

The Council extended the program to its current expiration date of this month and added an additional 50 commuters to participate. Hurley said the extension until this December was worth the subsidy cost to gather data needed to determine if the experiment has been successful.

At the current rate of return, however, he said, it may be necessary to allow for participation by 300 to 400 commuters to free up the original estimate of 100 parking spaces.

He also noted that it costs the city only about $400 per year to maintain each space, whereas the average commercial cost of maintaining spaces is $500 per year and constructing new spaces could run to a cost of twice that figure or more.

Ward 1 Councilman David Naidu, although in favor of extending the program until the end of the year to obtain additional data, said the original thought was to create a 1:1 ratio between the 100 users of the program and the number of spaces freed up.

Naidu said the program may not be useful unless it actually creates a long-term solution to the city’s parking deficit.

City administrator Michael Rogers replied that he thought the extension was useful in generating more data to measure the success of the program and to enable “due diligence” on the company providing the program.

Although Ward I Councilman Robert Rubino said the program was useful to deal with “incremental” parking needs, he added the Council probably would soon have to create an additional parking deck in the area of Summit and DeForest Avenues, as recommended by the Level G study. This probably would be needed, he added, in light of a project 450-space deficit and the added parking need create by more downtown businesses open at night in the central business district.

On another item in the City’s continuing parking dynamic, three Summit Avenue business owners urged the city to go further in restoring metered parking and doing away with meters in the area of 145-155 Summit reserved for those employed in the city.

Bruce Grimaldi, who owns a business at 151 Summit Avenue, thanked the council for introducing an ordinance, due for hearing on October 17, to remove bags from eight of the meters, he said business owners still may have problems finding spaces for their customers.

He added that the restrictions often mean that business owners are not able to park in front of their own businesses.

Oral surgeon John Bartlett of 155 Summit Avenue noted that many of his patients arrive in ambulances, which have limited access to the rear of his office and it was necessary for the spaces on Summit Avenue to remain metered to provide access to critical medical care.

A similar comment was made by Cynthia Marrapodi, owner of Creative Speech Solutions at 151 Summit Avenue.

Marrapodi does pediatric therapy and, she said, there is little parking in the rear of her building and, without the meters on Summit Avenue, little parking is available for parents with children attending one of her sessions.

Council president Michael McTernan thanked the business owners for their comments and invited them to return for the public hearing on the proposed parking meter change ordinance up for adoption that evening.

In another action at the initial October meeting, Mayor Nora Radest proclaimed October 8 through 14 as 'Fire Prevention Week' in Summit.

She joined with fire prevention bureau director Joseph Moschello and Summit Fire Chief Eric Evers in urging residents to find alternate exits from their homes in case of fires, because “Every Second Counts” in getting families to safety.

Radest noted this is particularly critical in modern homes, which often are constructed of material that burns faster and include substances that are toxic to firefighters and those trying to escape fires.

On another topic, the Council voted to support extension by the legislature of the 2 percent “cap” on arbitration awards to police and fire personnel seeking arbitration awards in salary disputes.

Hurley, who cast the lone vote against the extension measure, said he did not see value in Summit’s Council passing measures urging others, such at the legislature, to act on something.

He also said Summit’s experience in negotiating with its police and fire unions had been good and negotiations usually did not result in contracts that were excessively unfavorable to taxpayers

The Ward 2 representative also the caps were not as effective because bargaining units for teachers and other municipal employees did not have to abide by the caps on arbitration awards.

Naidu agreed with Hurley’s thoughts on “generic” resolutions that could easily be ignored by Trenton, such as Summit’s requests on completion of the Morris Avenue bridge and improving liquor license regulations.

He said, however, that large arbitration awards could force the City to reduce other programs in order to allow for the awards.

Councilman-at-Large Richard Sun also agreed the arbitration caps did single out police and fire salaries and supported Hurley on the lack of effectiveness of “generic” legislation.

Rubino, however, said resolutions supported by a number of municipalities do make a difference, especially if backed up by telephone calls by constituents to their legislators.

City solicitor Matthew J. Giacobbe noted that the arbitration cap was useful in reducing excessive increases in salary guide steps.

He also said that the arbitration cap legislation only applied to police and fire settlements since they were the only departments bound by arbitration awards.

The solicitor also noted that, since police and fire contracts often are settled first, they set the tone for awards to other bargaining units in many communities.

He agreed that, prior to the arbitration cap legislation, many municipalities had to cut services to make room for excessive police and fire arbitration awards.

In other actions at the meeting, the Council passed an ordinance that amends affordable housing regulations in Summit to limit commercial portions of multi-use units in the area of the Marco Polo restaurant to Morris Avenue with units on the side streets of the area restricted to residential use.

Other affordable housing measures called for set-aside figures for affordable housing in rented and owned units and created a new chapter for affordable housing regulations in the City code.

Also adopted was a zoning ordinance permitting research and development of chimeric antigen receptor T-cells by Celgene on its property in Summit.

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