The city has begun installing pay stations on Main Street as it prepares to charge for some spots beginning next month.
As of this week, parking meters and pay stations have officially made their return to downtown Sarasota. The new on-street paid parking program won’t actually take effect until the week of July 8 at the earliest, with officials plotting a phased-in approach across the heart of the city.
Until then, the machinery and (temporarily) bagged meters serve as a reminder the city is ready to once again embark on an effort that has previously been met with outspoken opposition.
There’s been resistance this time around, too. Still, city staff is optimistic the public is ready to accept downtown paid parking — and that the equipment won’t pose the same types of challenges as the last time the city installed parking meters.
“At this stage of the game, most people get how to use these things,” Parking Manager Mark Lyons said.
Lyons, long an advocate for the benefits of charging for prime parking spaces, said he’s even more confident about the downtown launch because the city is already operating a paid parking system at St. Armands Circle. Lyons said the downtown meters will be easier to use than the ones on St. Armands because there is one flat fee for all spaces rather than a tiered pricing structure.
As the implementation date draws near, the city plans to do some outreach to help educate both business owners and visitors. Lyons said the awareness campaign will include distributing informational brochures to merchants and posting videos to the city’s social media accounts.
Lyons said there are some wrinkles to the system he wants the public to be aware of. The program will include a provision that allows for a one-time ticket waiver: If a visitor gets a ticket in a metered spot, they can show a receipt showing they spent $25 at downtown businesses and avoid having to pay a fine. In addition to the on-street pay stations, visitors will be able to pay for their spots by using the ParkMobile app.
Some opposition to the meters remains among downtown businesses. Lyons met with Palm Avenue merchants in May and heard from some people who were upset about the plans, according to the minutes of a May 22 Parking Advisory Committee meeting. Lyons said he will continue to meet with the citizen-led parking committee after the launch of the parking program, so the city remains engaged with the public.
“They’ll help be the voice of any concerns,” Lyons said.
The first meters will go into effect around the county judicial district. Karen Rushing, Sarasota County’s clerk of the circuit court and county comptroller, said she didn’t believe the presence of meters will affect her office’s operations as long as the machinery is easy to use.
“I can’t really see it causing a problem, although we might have people unhappy,” Rushing said.
Lyons continues to believe on-street paid parking will help create a better overall system and open up the most convenient spaces for those willing to pay while directing other drivers to free parking on side streets or less costly spaces in the downtown garages. He thinks both visitors and merchants will see benefits.
“We’re encouraged it will also, over time, develop a flow of movement between people who want to park in the prime spaces on Main Street and Palm Avenue compared with some who are willing to go off into the garages or time-restricted spaces,” Lyons said.