After what was observed over the last few months, Ocean City should have no issue with increasing the hourly rates at the Hugh T. Cropper Inlet Parking Lot during the summer season.
This is a controversial decision, as is any move to dig further into visitors’ wallets, but demand continues to far outstrip supply at the oceanfront parking lot, which was reportedly full as early as 8:30 a.m. on most weekend mornings. It’s clear day-trippers as well as overnight guests find the current rates easily affordable at the 1,200-space lot. As of now, to spend eight hours on the beach at the Inlet on a Saturday in July, it costs $16 to park. That’s more than reasonable.
Earlier this year, the Mayor and Council considered increasing the parking rate at the Inlet. Currently, from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend, it costs $1.50 per hour to park at the Inlet from Monday to Thursday. It goes up to $2 per hour Friday to Sunday. In the shoulder seasons, from April 15 to start of Memorial Day weekend and after Labor Day to Oct. 15, it’s $1 per hour during the week and $1.50 an hour on the weekends. It’s been that way for six years by our estimation.
The proposed 25-cent-per-hour fee increase was expected to bring in an additional $1 million back in the spring. That was shelved and never considered again by the council. The numbers on page 6A prove to us that was a mistake for the Inlet lot. Although the perception was it was busier this year, usage was just about level, according to the revenue numbers.
We think Ocean City should increase the Inlet parking lot rate to $3 per hour in the summer seven days a week and leave the offseason rates alone. Critics will surely say this is another example of gouging the tourist. However, we think this is a prime parking lot that’s all about convenience. There needs to be a significant cost to parking within steps of the beach and Boardwalk. Three bucks for an hour at an oceanfront parking lot is not too much to charge. If it is to some motorists, they can park along the streets, in other cheaper lots or explore mass transit options.
Council members seem to be open to at least discussing a modest hike at the lot. At a committee-level meeting last month, Councilman Jim Hall, who opposed the Inlet parking hike in the spring, showed a change of heart. “They are closing that lot at like 8:30 in the morning on the weekends, and the fact that people are staying there all day long in those spots at $2 an hour, tells me that [the inlet lot] is the deal in town,” said Hall. “So maybe we should consider raising the rates a bit to keep some of those spaces open and make those prime time parking spots a bit more valuable to the town.”
Whether the council has the stomach to increase parking by $1 an hour at the lot is unknown. The reality may be a 50-cent increase, or less, is more reasonable, once the council digests all involved with the decision. However, we think the increase needs to be enough to discourage some folks from immediately pulling into Ocean City and heading straight for the Inlet lot. That’s clearly happening.
Parking is a user fee, and we do not feel raising the rate substantially will deter people from coming to Ocean City. This is not a price gouge and that’s clear if you look at other high-volume resorts or even municipal lots in metropolitan areas. We hope the council discusses this over the next few months and comes to an agreement a significant rate hike is warranted.