Rob Weinhold, a spokesperson for Town Center owner Boston Properties, reports that more than 42,000 downloads of the app have been made as of Wednesday morning. That number is up significantly from 28,000 on Jan. 3, the day paid parking went into effect.
Parking in the Town Center had been free since it opened in 1990. Since the paid-parking initiative began last week, it now costs $2 per hour in parking garages and $3 per hour on the street. Parking in garages is free on weekends; street parking is free on Sunday only.
Visitors who do not wish to use the app can use pay stations at the entrances to each garage.
In the week since paid parking began, at least one business — The Bike Lane — has publicly announced its intention to leave the Town Center.
In addition to concerns over the cost of parking itself, dissenters have brought up questions about privacy and app security. Town Center officials have responded to those queries, saying the app is perfectly safe to use.
The Bike Lane has been serving its customers in Reston Town Center for going on nine years.
Now, the owners of the store say they are actively seeking to leave because of the Town Center’s new paid-parking initiative.
“We believe in providing our customers with an amazing shopping experience and we do not agree with charging for parking. We are actively looking to relocate The Bike Lane in or around Reston and we will keep you updated about our future plans as they progress.”
Todd Mader owns the shop along with his wife, Anne. He tells Reston Now they only have a little over a year left on a 10-year lease and they have every intention of leaving early.
“This is not the experience we want our customers to have, to come in here during the week and battle with a parking app,” Mader said. “They come in here to buy a $10 inner tube and now they’re paying $12.”
The store is offering customers in-store credits and gift cards to compensate them for weekday parking. But Mader said in the long run, the hassle isn’t worth it when the store can just relocate.
“We were hoping parking wouldn’t be a big deal,” he said. “But if given the opportunity to move sooner rather than later, we’d do that.”
Mader said the parking situation has never been ideal for many of his customers, who may have bicycles attached to the roof or the back of their vehicle and may therefore find parking garages difficult to navigate. Now that it costs by the hour as well, he’s had enough.
“Having a space that’s more traditional, open-air shopping… that’s more what we’re looking for,” Mader said.
Social media backlash has been heavy on Reston Town Center and its owner, Boston Properties, because of the new parking fees, with many people threatening a “boycott.” However, Mader said the result of that hurts businesses such as his more than anyone.
“That’s not hurting [the Town Center and Boston Properties], not directly anyway. That’s hurting the merchant — big and small,” he said. “There is a noticeable drop in the plaza during the week. Friday night was dead, in the restaurants and in foot traffic.”
Mader said his hope is to relocate the store within a mile of its current location, so it can continue to serve its loyal patrons.
“We’re overwhelmed by the support of our customers,” he said. “We want to make it very convenient for people to find us and continue to shop with us.”
If you pay attention to Reston on social media, you’ve seen a firestorm in the past couple days.
Tweeters and Facebookers alike have responded en masse after paid parking went into effect Tuesday at Reston Town Center. The new paid-parking initiative has many customers of Town Center businesses saying they are staging a boycott.
— Brian McMahon (@GoIrishBrian) January 4, 2017
@RestonTwnCenter ridiculous parking situation. Driving on to Tysons Corner from now on. Your retailers be very upset!
— Bazbol Fan (@Bazbol) January 4, 2017
— Matt Small (@newsmatt) January 3, 2017
Nearly 20 restaurants and retailers in the Town Center are validating parking for customers. Rob Weinhold, a spokesperson for Town Center owner Boston Properties, said Wednesday that those businesses are seeing the benefits of helping consumers pay the cost.
“It’s been an ongoing issue, and one of the concerns that retailers in any paid parking environment across the world have is what will it do to profits,” he said. “There are many retailers who have chosen to work within their business model and provide validation to consumers, which has worked out well for them.”
One of those businesses is Potomac River Running Store, which posted to social media Tuesday that it is validating one hour of parking for customers who make a purchase of $20 or more.
— PRRunning (@PRRunning) January 4, 2017
“As a locally-owned, independent store selling national brands, we cannot and will not raise our prices to cover the cost of parking for our customers,” the post reads. “But, at our expense, we will validate your parking when you shop at ==PR== Reston, because it’s the right thing to do for you.”
Other businesses, such as Starbucks, have chosen to not validate parking. Melina Palomino, a shift manager at the coffee shop, said as most of their customers are coming in on their way to or from work or shopping, they don’t see validation as necessary to their business. Palomino and others said business was slow Tuesday, but they attributed that to an expected post-holiday lull rather than to the parking situation.
Weinhold said many businesses in the Town Center continue to evaluate the situation to see how they can best work within the new parking rules.
“Reston Town Center is a fantastic environment with a wonderful retail and dining experience,” he said. “I would think that certainly there’s a level of quality which no one wants compromised.”
Judging from response online, however, many people feel it already has been.
A Tuesday post on Reston Town Center’s Facebook page reminding people about the policy change had more than 275 comments as of 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. RTC staff has been diligently responding to many of the comments on that post and others on the page. Questions about parking validation and app security were among the many that were answered, though a number of commenters simply said they were done with RTC because of the decision.
RTC ambassadors were present at pay stations inside parking garages Tuesday and Wednesday to help users with any questions. Weinhold said he was at Reston Town Center throughout the day Tuesday and witnessed no major concerns.
“While there are people that don’t necessarily agree with the policy, which is understandable, from an operating perspective the day was a success,” he said.
The date has arrived. As of today, visitors to Reston Town Center are paying for the right to park there.
The ParkRTC paid parking initiative has officially begun, a Boston Properties official told Reston Now. Mobile pay parking is available through the ParkRTC smartphone app, while visitors without the app will be required to use garage pay stations or pay by phone.
Parking in the Town Center’s five garages will now cost $2 an hour (up to a maximum charge of $24 a day). Street parking is $3 an hour. A number of retailers have previously announced they plan to offer parking validation.
This marks the first time since the retail and residential complex opened in 1990 that parking fees will be collected.
The ParkRTC app, which can be downloaded via iTunes and Google Play, enables visitors to see available spaces, pay for a parking session, extend a parking session and receive discounts from retailers. According to Robert Weinhold, a Boston Properties spokesperson, more than 28,000 people had downloaded the app as of Tuesday morning.
Boston Properties, the owner of Reston Town Center, had originally announced it planned to commence paid parking at Reston Town Center last year. However, the start date was pushed back to Jan. 3 to allow “additional time to educate consumers” who were not embracing the technology, an RTC spokesman told Reston Now in September.
Nearly 9,000 people signed a change.org petition, organized by Reston’s Suzanne Zurn, asking to stop the new parking fees from being enacted at the Town Center. However, Boston Properties and the Reston Town Center Association did not bend on the plan.
Last month, Reston Now conducted an unscientific poll in which nearly 94 percent of readers said they do not support paid parking at the Town Center.
The app, available in Apple and Google Play options, will enable patrons to punch in a zone number and pay the $2-an-hour parking fee without a ticket or stopping at a gate. The app also gives users access to LiveSafe, a safety feature that allows one to report suspicious behavior to RTC security or Fairfax County Police, as well as ask for help in a potentially dangerous situation.
The app has not been well received by Reston Now readers, who have made hundreds of comments on our site saying they are concerned by privacy issues or simply won’t download the app as they plan on never visiting Reston Town Center if they have to pay to park.
It’s a different story, though, if one reads customer reviews on the Apple or Google play sites. Since paid parking is not yet in effect, the app is not really functional. That leads to the thought that the reviews are, well, fabricated. Take these examples:
Quick setup. Appreciated the reminder when time was almost up. Receipt function useful when visiting RTC for business. Much easier than the frustrating MoCo parking app that was not easy to use and required a minimum $20 upfront to park.
Fast and easy to download; One of my fave places, so ready to park RTC.
Great app Easy to use. Love it
This app is fast and simple to navigate. Will make the paid parking process at RTC an easy transition!
Camera and No Phone Sleep? Why do you need access to my camera? Why do you need to prevent my phone from sleeping? Do I have to pay you in battery life too?
Nope. Never paying to park in RTC. Will park elsewhere or take my business elsewhere.
I get it. Transitioning from free to pay parking is a big step, and obviously a shock for those patrons that have been parking free at this location for over a decade. But this app just throws gas on the fire.
To whomever was responsible for this abomination: if you’re going to upend people’s routines and expectations with paid parking, at least put in the time and investment in creating a user experience that isn’t laughably amateurish, if not downright hostile.
Seriously. Someone should get fired for thinking this onboarding experience (from the blurred-out location services permissions sheet to the 7 pt TOS link) is remotely acceptable for any viable app, let alone an app requiring such dramatic changes to user behavior.
Have you checked out the app yet? What are your thoughts?