Four young men and one young woman can be seen by the meters in Port Jefferson with polo shirts emblazoned with Port Jefferson parking. Their job is to answer the question that’s on the lips of so many visitors and residents alike; “where do I park?”
The first parking ambassador was introduced to the village last year, according to Kevin Wood, the village parking and mobility administrator.
“They bring that human touch to the operation of paying for a space,” Wood said. “Beyond that, they’re all Port Jefferson residents, so they know where everything is.”
All but one of the parking ambassadors are seniors at the Port Jefferson High School. Connor Kaminska, one of the village’s first parking ambassador, finished his first year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is back for the summer. Beyond fielding questions from confused visitors, Kaminska also uses his technical skills to fix the meter stalls he comes across
“I usually start off a shift with checking if they’re working,” he said. “If not then I usually fix them, take out the motherboards and catch boxes, just get them working… It’s nice being outside, helping people.”
The other four parking ambassadors include Port Jefferson High School seniors David Rotunno, Gavin Barrett, Reid Biondo and Amanda Brosnan. The young people work four to five days a week on four- to six-hour shifts, depending on how busy the village is at the time. They are paid $12 an hour, of which the money comes from the managed meter fund. During events like the Mini Maker Faire June 8, most of the ambassadors were out fielding questions about the meters.
Wood said, on a typical night, two ambassadors will be out for around four hours from 4 to 8 p.m. One is usually located on the west side of Main Street while the other focuses on the eastern end.
The parking administrator said the idea came from fielding many questions from visitors and residents while working on village meters.
“I found that 90 percent of questions are: how do I do this, what are the hours, does the machine give change, where is this restaurant, what time does this close, what time can I park here until,” he said. “The word ambassador is correct, Port Jeff ambassador.”
Brosnan saw an ad for the job on Facebook, and said she thought to herself, “Oh, I can walk around the village, help people and get paid for it.”
She added it’s especially helpful for when the village gets busy, and there’s hardly any spot to find within the entirety of Port Jeff. She usually suggests people find spots near the CVS or the Village Center in the back lot.
“Port Jeff is a tourist town, and people don’t know how to use it, even if there’s signs on the meters,” she said. “Sometimes the machine glitches, or just somebody isn’t sure what to do, so we’re there to help them with it.”
Biondo, a fellow high school senior, is also doing his first season as a parking ambassador. He finds he’s often acting as a facilitator for the parking meters, helping people understand how they can pay for their spot, where some machines don’t accept cash, and none give change. He also tries to tell people about the mobile app MobileNOW!.
“People do enjoy it, because it’s just one less hurdle for them to come and enjoy the village,” Biondo said.
“There’s no secret that there’s parking anxiety in Port Jeff.”
— Kevin Wood
Each of them has a consistent question they hear most often. Kaminska said he often hears about how one can add time to a spot and where certain restaurants are to give them “a lay of the land.”
Brosnan often gets asked where meters are, if meters apply directly to spots, or if they can be used for every spot in the village. Answer: the meters can interact with every parking spot.
Though it’s not necessarily an easy job. The ambassadors are always on their feet. With smart watches and Fitbits. Biondo said he has tracked more than 30,000 steps in a day, while the lone girl on the ambassador team said she had once tracked over six miles of walking distance in a shift.
All but Kaminska will be graduating by the end of June. Brosnan will be going to Salve Regina University in Rhode Island, Rotunno will be going to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Barrett will be going to Binghamton University in Upstate New York, and Biondo will be attending the University of Virginia.
Wood said their work has been invaluable so far this season.
“There’s no secret that there’s parking anxiety in Port Jeff,” Wood said. “These wonderful human beings just by being present calm that anxiety.”
More about parking can be found at https://portjeff.com/parking/