There’s a new parking director in town, and he has some ideas about updating the city’s parking policies to increase efficiencies, reduce expenses, eliminate abuses and make the parking program more self-sustaining.
Parking Division General Manager Broxton Harvey, who replaced the retired Mark Lyons in February, presented findings from a monthslong study of the city’s entire inventory of free, time-restricted and paid parking to the City Commission during a workshop on Monday. The intent was to start a discussion about methods to modernize and maximize the city’s inventory of 3,000-plus parking spaces.
Harvey said his goals include making hourly parking rates consistent across all parking spaces, bringing the city’s parking program more in line with comparable coastal cities and encouraging turnover of spaces to help benefit businesses that rely on customers finding convenient parking.
Although he insisted the proposals were not about making money, if his entire proposal was implemented, Harvey said the city would gross an additional $3.5 million in revenue per year.
Some of Harvey's proposals were met with some resistance by commissioners seeking to find a balance between program self-sustainability and the public greater good.
Jen Ahearn-Koch, for example, opposes Harvey’s proposal to replace the 80 free street side parking spaces on Benjamin Franklin Drive along Lido Beach with metered parking at a rate of $1.50 per hour.
“I think it's really important that we keep our beaches accessible and open to the every man,” she said. “That is a really important point for me that we don't become an exclusive place and that we remain a place that is accessible to everyone, and free parking is a big piece of that.”
Harvey’s proposal to eliminate the city’s 21 free electric vehicle charging stations elicited the most division among commissioners. In total the stations cost taxpayers about $1,700 per month in electricity and another $10,000 per year in maintenance and repairs. Harvey suggests charging $1 per hour, which he said will cover the costs.
City Manager Marlon Brown said the free charging stations are often abused, saying he has observed drivers parking EVs at charging stations, getting into another vehicle and leaving them there all day.
“I very much support the rational nexus of what it costs is what we charge,” Ahearn-Koch said. “We probably don't want to be subsidizing this, but we also don't want to tip it to the point where people are going say, ‘I'm not doing that. I'm going to go to UTC instead.’ So there is a point there where that we have to be very careful of how we balance those fees.”
Mayor Kyle Battie took a more direct approach.
“I have no problem with that,” he said about charging a fee for charging. “I also have no problem with us making money. What's wrong with that? It's $1, and right now we're charging nothing. People have been using it for free for who knows how long, parking their cars there all day. We need to recoup some money for what we've lost.”
Another abuse, Harvey and Brown explained, is that drivers take advantage of the two-hour grace period in parking garages. Some parkers, they said, will exit the garage before the free two-hour window expires, then re-enter, taking another ticket, and repeating.
To increase operational efficiency, reduce exit queuing time after special events and eliminate cheating the two-hour grace period, Harvey posed a two-pronged strategy of reducing the grace period to 30 minutes and installing gateless exit systems using license plate recognition technology. Similar to modern toll booth systems, anyone who doesn’t pay at kiosks or by smartphone app will receive a bill for parking in the mail.
“Some of the benefits for going gate-less is ease of use for the parking by the customer,” Harvey said. “A lot of people like to utilize their phones and utilize technology, but for those who do not we will still have pay stations in the garages. It's a lot faster for a person to park, pay with their phone and go on about their daily business versus having to stop either to use a card to enter or pull a ticket.
“When you leave, you have to find your parking access card if you're a monthly parker, or if you're a visitor you now have to put your ticket in and then pay the fee and go through all the different steps in order to exit the garage.”
One other parking pressure point Harvey proposed to address is the public boat launch at Centennial Park, where parking for vehicles and those with trailers is currently free. He suggested separate flat rates of as much as $25 for vehicles with trailers and $5 for vehicles only.
The park, which has 67 trailer and 28 vehicle spaces, on average parks 40 trailers and 20 cars per day, typically reaching capacity during season and holidays.
Commissioners warned of ramp users parking in the Van Wezel lot across the canal as an option, which is problematic during events and shows, and suggested the city prohibit parking there.
Commissioners are not expected to take any action on Harvey’s proposals in the near term, Brown characterizing the workshop as a starting point in the discussion. They suggested Harvey take the proposals to neighborhood groups, particularly those that could be affected by spillover resulting from the changes.
“Preventing abuse of our electric charging stations makes sense. License plate recognition software makes sense, but this is an additional tax. It's additional fees on our residents that is projected to be $3.5 million per year,” said Commissioner Erik Arroyo about increased rates and more metered parking spaces. “Our goal should be first to make parking break even and it seems that it's close to that right now. Is this a buffet? Are we going to have to as a commission pick what to approve and what not to approve? Were you envisioning all of this getting implemented?”
“It’s more like a buffet,” Brown replied. “Our intent is to go out to the business community and the residential community, share this and then come back to the commission with what we’ve heard.”
Parking program priorities
Extended parking enforcement
- Extended metered parking hours until 10 p.m.
- Enforcement currently ends at 8 p.m.
- Downtown metered parking
Expand program by 103 parking spaces on
- First Street
- Pineapple Avenue
- Five Points Park
- State Street
St. Armands free parking
- Change all day-parking to two-hour parking on:
- North Boulevard of the Presidents, 63 spaces
- South Boulevard of the Presidents, 114 spaces
- Increase downtown rate at State Street and Palm Avenue garages from $20 per month to $35 per month
- Increase St. Armands rate in St. Armands garage from $10 per month to $25 per month
- Downtown and St. Armands surface parking lots remain at $20 and $10 per month, respectively
Gateless garage program
- Increase efficiency
- Reduce maintenance and repairs
- Reduce queuing at entrance and exit
Parking citation appeals
- Increase appeals fee from the current $7.50 rate to $15, $20 or $25
Fee citation schedule
- Current citation fees are $25, $30 and $35
- Proposed increase of $10
Benjamin Franklin Drive metered parking
- Extend metered parking on 80 spaces from John Ringling Boulevard to Lido Beach Pavilion at a rate of $1.50 per hour
Centennial Park boat ramp parking
- Currently free to public
- Implement fee-based parking of $10-$25 per day for vehicles with trailers
- Implement fee-based parking of $5 per day for vehicles only
- Prohibit spillover parking in Van Wezel lot
Electric vehicle charging stations
- Consider implantation of hourly fee for EV charging.
- Eliminate cash and coin payments.
- More efficient and faster transactions
- Reduced expenses for cash collections