A proposal, presented at the July 13 city council meeting by General Services chair Councilwoman Ellen Dickson, may have shoppers in downtown Summit paying to park in 2011. The proposal is aimed not at generating revenue, but at curtailing the habit of many people who work in Summit of parking in the free shopper lots.
Parking Services Agency manager Rita McNany asked for the council's blessing to draft a preliminary ordinance that will be introduced in September and discussed before being voted on. The new plan would call for a fee schedule to be implemented in the three Park and Shop lots and the Tier garage. Under current ordinances, shoppers can park for free for two hours at a time in any one lot, and three hours total per day. But McNany contends that too many employees shuffle between lots and metered street parking, with the end result being not enough parking for customers. She calls the current system "punitive to customers and labor-intensive."
"Many people park where it is free, even if it is not the right thing to do," she said.
Under the proposed fee schedule, parking would remain free for the first 30 minutes. One hour would cost $0.50 and rise by the hour, and more than seven hours would be $14. The equipment, which will cost between $700,000 and $1 million, would pay for itself within a year, said McNany, and would eliminate the need for parking enforcement. People who work downtown would have greater incentive to use one of the five employee lots downtown, which costs $4.75 per day, thus freeing up spots for shoppers. McNany says that people will pay for the convenience of being able to quickly and easily find a parking space.
"People already pay at street meters for convenience, and they'll do the same in lots."
The council was generally amenable to the idea. Councilman Steve Murphy asked how downtown merchants felt about charging their customers for parking and was told that most approved, and that Parking Management would institute a merchant program that would allow shop owners to give customers free parking vouchers. Councilwoman Dickson pointed out that "free" parking isn't necessarily free, and that upkeep costs about $150 per space per year.
Only Councilman Tom Getzendanner was opposed.
"I agree with the social policy objective, which is primarily aimed at changing behavior patterns, not generating revenue," he said, "but City Hall doesn't have the capacity to maintain a complicated business like parking, or the charter to do so. Competition for scarce tax money means parking loses out. I recommend privatization."
McNany will draft a preliminary resolution and present it to the council for further discussion in September. A parking management plan, the goal of which is "to provide ample convenient parking to be used by the greatest number of users" has been in place since 2006. In 2007, a study performed by an independent research group on how to optimize parking Summit recommended this course of action.
"We're trying to get more out of what we already have," said McNany.