Charlottesville’s City Council will be asked Wednesday to set a rate for parking meters that soon will be installed between Market Street and Water Street, but that is not the only change proposed for downtown parking.
“There’s always been an economic mistake in the way parking was set up here, where it was free on the street and expensive in the garage,” said Rick Siebert, the city’s parking manager.
“If we’re going to set $1.80 an hour as an on-street rate, we need to lower the garage rate to something less than that,” he said.
The proposed new hourly rate at the Market Street Parking Garage is $1.50 an hour, but the first hour will be free. The current rate is $2.50 an hour.
The changes are part of a parking management plan created after the council voted 4-1 in April 2016 to approve meters on a six-month trial basis. The plan’s goal is to free up on-street parking for visitors to downtown.
“The theory is that now people won’t just circle around looking for that open space on the street,” Siebert said. “They’ll know they can come to the garage and get the first hour free.”
Siebert said the on-street parking spaces are more convenient and charging for them should motivate more people to switch to the Market Street garage.
The rate at the Water Street Parking Garage will remain $2 an hour due to an ongoing legal dispute between the city and the Charlottesville Parking Center over rates.
Representatives of the CPC declined to comment for this story.
Siebert said the Market Street garage will stop participating in a long-running validation system that provides two hours of free parking. Several dozen businesses participate in this program.
The head of the Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville is keeping an open mind.
“I think it’s worth a try and we will see how it works, “said Joan Fenton, chairwoman of the association. “It may work well for customers and we won’t know until we try.”
When the City Council took its vote, some members expressed concern that low-wage employees would not have a place to park. Siebert is proposing a voucher system that would reduce the cost of the garage for some workers.
“It’s $135 to park in the Market Street garage on a monthly basis, and that’s a lot of money for somebody making $12 an hour on the [Downtown] Mall,” he said.
Siebert’s idea is to offer a voucher that would cost $6.50 for an entire day of parking in the garage with employees and businesses splitting the cost.
The city also will advertise a city-owned parking lot on Avon Street as a free park-and-ride location.
“There’s a bus stop with a shelter right in front of it on the Number 2 route,” Siebert said. “You can ride the bus for $20 a month. If you work 20 days a month, it’s $1 a day to park for free as long as you want.”
Another experiment is to keep the Market Street Parking Garage open 24 hours a day, something that’s been quietly happening since April.
“It’s no longer locked after the cashier’s booth closes,” Siebert said. “We opened it without any publicity just to see what the effect was. Obviously, there are concerns with security. We have not experienced any problems at all.”
Siebert said this policy might be reconsidered in the future. The change allows people to park for free if they leave after the cashier’s booth closes, whereas previously their vehicle would be locked inside the garage.
The owner of one downtown restaurant said he was alarmed at the initial proposal of charging for on-street parking but some of the new details seem to address some of his concerns.
“If you’re going to go with parking meters, it needs to be part a bigger plan,” said Mike Rodi, of Rapture. “You have to subsidize the cost of employees because they’re taking up valuable real estate.”
The council also will be asked to form a parking advisory panel that consists of business owners, employees and residents of the Downtown Mall. The council also will need to adjust city law to reflect new technology since the last time there were parking meters.
“It never planned for the idea that you could have a central pay station on a block,” Siebert said. “It never planned for the idea that you could put something other than just coins in a parking meter.”
Revenue from on-street parking, garage parking and fines will all go into the same account separate from the general fund. Any surplus from this parking fund could be used to pay for improvements downtown.
Siebert said the city is working to install the meters and switch to the new system by Sept. 1. The city has entered into a contract with IPS of San Diego for the equipment.
Another downtown employee said she is concerned about the changes.
“I do believe this will still be a deterrent to folks shopping downtown,” said Brittany Eversberg. “I am glad that they are considering lowering the rates from the original rate, but I still believe it will still impact things negatively.”