Once again an item with significant budget implications appeared on the consent agenda. This evening’s dealt with buying 40 more pay stations to finish covering Downtown’s on-street spots and increasing the cost of parking %25 to $1.25 an hour.

The discussion has been rather disturbing because two efforts have been conflated: the staff led Downtown Parking study which was done with a consultancy and the efforts of the Downtown Parking Task Force (which I and Councilmember Jim Ward were members of).

The Task Force most certainly did not recommend raising rates, as the Town Manager, Finance head and Downtown Partnership director suggested, while the study and staff led effort did.

The other confusion was the duration the meters run. The Mayor thought they had been shortened Downtown when they actually have been extended to 8pm.

The memo (here) was also light on the same kind of analysis the Downtown Parking Task Force did.

For instance, while suggesting that higher on-street costs will drive parking to cheaper off-street locations, there was no supporting analysis of that contention. The DPTF reviewed studies that show that increased rates can be effective in encouraging off-street utilization in highly urban environments (like Downtown San Francisco!). It appears that a more likely scenario for Downtown Chapel Hill would end up with driving some folks away while increasing off-street utilization during off-peak hours (can’t park in some lots at peak times).

A wash so to speak.

Considering that studies show underground lots have lower utilization rates than above-ground or ground-llevel lots, I’m not sure how the extra $70,000 in revenue is derived with the new Lot #5 moneypit mixed in. Unfortunately, that analysis was also missing.

Laurin Easthom did a good job trying to get behind the reasoning for increasing the rates now – including deferring the expected costs of dealing with Lot #5’s closure. Matt Cz. highlighted one of the recommendations of the DPTF, making parking fare free during the holidays and other periods of time when utilization is very low (think Christmas).

As far as the new meters, they are kind of neat but I’ve found their uptime a bit questionable (Chapel Hill Watch has a post on it here).

One positive of the units not emphasized by tonight’s presenters is that spaces tend to yield more revenue per space because folks can’t tell how much more time is on the meter so two parkers pay for the same space during the same time period twice.

Luckily the public will have an opportunity to weigh in again during budget season.

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