With just over a month before parking meters are scheduled to become active in downtown Charlottesville, around two dozen people gathered in CitySpace Wednesday for an update on the pilot project to bring paid parking to downtown.

City Council voted 4-1 in April 2016 to proceed with a six-month program to test a new parking management philosophy intended to open up the number of on-street spaces by discouraging downtown employees from using them during the day.

“There’s much less incentive to do the two-hour shuffle if you’re paying for parking, but it has to be part of a larger plan,” said Rick Siebert, Charlottesville’s parking manager. “What I’d like to do is have people come downtown and have them know they can find parking.”

The program that begins Sept. 5 covers a twelve-block area between East 7th Street and Old Preston Avenue with Market Street and Water Street as the northern and southern boundaries, respectively.

As part of the plan, the first hour of parking at the Market Street Parking Garage will be free and additional hours would be $1.50 each. That’s a reduction from the current $2.50 hourly rate with no free time.

At the beginning of the program, the Water Street Parking Garage likely will remain at its current price of $2.00, in part because of an on-going legal dispute between the city of Charlottesville and the Charlottesville Parking Center. That, however, could change.

“We are talking to one another,” Siebert said, adding he is hopeful for an agreement before September 5. “If we did, the objective is that the Water Street would go to the first hour free and that both garages would operate in the exact same way.”

An official with the CPC confirmed talks are underway.

“The City and CPC have had a series of constructive conversations of late and are working toward a positive resolution of the situation at Water Street,” said Dave Norris, the private company’s general manager. “I think everyone understands that an effective strategy for downtown parking has to include the largest parking asset downtown [and that’s] the Water Street garage.”

In all, 105 on-street spaces will require a fee of $1.80 an hour but they will all still be restricted to two hours before the motorist will have to move their vehicle. Credit cards will be accepted as well as coins.

Enforcement will be from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. That’s two hours more than the current restriction.

“It makes me nervous we would change the 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.,” said Blair Williamson, owner of Magpie Knits. “I worry it would be discouraging to people who want to go restaurants.”

Some business owners pushed back on the two-hour limit that will be maintained.

“It’s not enough time,” Williamson said.

Siebert said one solution for the future after the pilot could be to have fees that increase the longer someone is parking in an on-street space.

For instance, under a 90-day program that began last month in Roanoke the first hour is free, the second hour is $1 and the third hour is $3.

“We’re going to have a mix of single-spaced parking meters and multi-space parking meters,” Siebert said.

The multi-space meters will be located on Water Street and will require a license plate number to be entered in.

Siebert said some of the meters are being loaned to the city and some are being rented “at a low price.”

He added the contract with IPS, of San Diego, California, includes a potential purchase price for the meters and requires a 30-day period in which the meters are to be removed if Council decides not to continue the program.

Another idea is to create a revenue source that will go towards improvements for the downtown area. Revenue from meters, fines and the Market Street will go into a separate enterprise fund.

“Everything we’re doing is to improve the business atmosphere in the downtown area,” Siebert said.

City police will enforce the meters during the pilot program. After that, a decision will have to be made about who will monitor the meters. Siebert said it could be a private company rather than public employees.

Information collected during the pilot program will provide a bigger picture for Council to decide whether to continue or whether to expand it, Siebert said.

“Once we have that data we will be in a much better place to make decisions,” Siebert said. One possibility is that the number of loading spaces might be reduced if data shows they are not being used.

“They sure seem empty much of the time,” he added. “If we could get better utilization of those, it would be a good idea.”

Siebert said a limited validation program will be created for some employees. He added that an app called Parkmobile will eventually allow businesses to pay for their customer’s parking but that will not start immediately.

Siebert also explained that all-day parking options that will exist for employees. In addition to a free park-and-ride lot on Avon Street, the city will create a $6.50 parking voucher where business owners can split the cost of parking in the garage with their employees.

He also said the Market Street Parking Garage is no longer locked after the booth closes and the gate opens to let anyone parked in the structure leave without paying.

Additionally, a surface space at Market Street and 7th Street will become free to park in after 5 p.m. beginning Sept. 5.