Thursday, July 21, 2011

Parking System Update - Reader Request

About a month ago, I asked readers of this blog, followers on Twitter and Facebook for planning related topics they would like to see covered in this blog. I received a few entries in the request column. Today I am going to cover one such topic: the parking meter program.

By way of starting, I'd like to give some background to this program. In 2005, the City worked with Rizzo and Associates to create the Downtown Parking Circulation Study, which reviewed the direction and flow of travel in downtown Dover. One portion of this project was a review of parking. This report was followed in 2007 by the Lansing Melbourne Downtown Parking Facility and Management Study. The next year, an ad hoc committee was created by the City Council to review options and it developed the recommendation that the City Council supported, which said that no tax dollars should be used to pay for a parking facility.

To that end it was determined that parking meters would derive the revenue required to fund a parking facility, and the overall management program, which includes the Parking Manager, enforcement staff and associated administrative support.

Whew. What does that all mean? Well, since that recommendation was approved, the Planning and Police Department worked with the ad hoc committee, and a newly created Parking Commission to review, develop and roll out a Parking Meter program. This program started with a pilot installation along Henry Law Avenue, and the Belknap and Orchard Street Parking lots.

This pilot was successful. The success was twofold, it allowed staff and the Commission to review the parking meters in use, and also allowed us to take parking lots, which had meters in them, and try a master meter concept. It allowed adjustments and observations (space between meters to be convenient, and where dead zones were) to be made. If you have not used the meters they are spread out every 10-12 spaces where you pay for the time you want to park, and then display a ticket in your window. You have the ability to park anywhere in the parking district (downtown), with the one ticket. Move your car or keep it in place for the time on the ticket, it isn't tied to a space.

After the pilot program was expanded to the second phase, last year, which included areas on Central Avenue, and parking lots throughout the downtown. Included in this phase was the introduction of parking tokens, which allow users to purchase time on the meter at a lower cost than regular fees.

Also at that time, a closer eye was paid to the problem of shuffling. For a number of years, the City had time restricted parking, even when no fee was charged to park. For example on Central Avenue, there was a 2 hour limit. What occurred was that employees of a business parked on street, and then forced customers to find alternate locations to park that was not as convenient to the business they hoped to visit. The employees would "shuffle" their cars all day long, instead of parking in a long term lot. With the advent of the pay and display roll out, it became clearer who the shufflers were.

Finally, earlier this year phase three was implemented for the program. This phase is located along lower Central Avenue, around City Hall, and on side streets downtown that had not been covered previously. Also, included at this point, after public comment and feedback was a provision to allow for free parking if a car was parked under 15 minutes to allow those quick purchases to occur, as well as shifting the hours of operation from 8 am - 6 pm to 9 am to 7 pm.

So, is the program successful? From discussions with Bill Simons, the Parking Manager, the answer may be yes. Bill correctly points out that the revenue for this year, is not complete and will fluctuate, but overall expectations are being met. Bill was good enough to review income history and found that revenue from the meters has covered the bond payment for the meters, and that he expects revenue for the year to exceed $250,000 for the total parking program (meters and permit, minus credit card admin fees). This does not include revenue from fines and enforcement, which continues to be accounted.

Regarding the shuffling, which was a larger problem than one might have realized, Bill reports that shuffling has been virtually eliminated. The Police Department observations, as well as input from business owners, indicate that almost every space on the central corridor is being used by visitors and customers. This means that employees and business owners have moved to surface lots and other locations, and in some cases are walking to work, which leaves the spaces on street for customers, visitors or short term parking.

So, coming back to the original query from the reader, "How's the meter program going, is it even paying for itself?"I think an honest answer is that it is too soon to tell. That's not a satisfying answer though. From a planning perspective the program is successful because it is assisting in the turnover of parking spaces, which allows customers better access to the businesses they are trying to reach. Also, I think the public interaction and community reaction has been a success. It is good to see the Parking Commission and staff work with residents to improve the program (tokens, free fifteen minutes, adjusting hours, parking holidays), and it is good to see that as with any change, there has been reaction at first, but it seems to be a situation where people are adjusting.

Also from a planning perspective, we are seeing increased ridership on the COAST buses and the FastTrans program, which is the intra city bus we operate out of the transportation center. This may or may not be attributed to people wanting to not park downtown, and seeing the value of mass transit. Also, in my case, I am trying to walk more downtown, and live close enough I can. I think with gas prices what they are, others are doing this as well.

Is it paying for itself? Also, a tough thing to answer. Short answer is that it appears to be, but I think this is really where you have to make a judgment and extrapolate an answer, and I am not in the proper place to do that. We don’t have enough information, and I’d feel irresponsible to make a reactive declaration of success without all the info. I think the numbers reflect that it might be on track, but I want to see more than six months of full revenue in place, over different seasons, to declare a financial success. Then again, if the program income did pay the bond payment to date, then I guess it is paying for itself.

Next, please
So, that is the answer to the first suggested topic. From here I am going to move on, in August to another topic. I like the idea of responding to planning topic requests, so please feel free to send topics along, and as always, enjoy the summer.

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