$50 Holiday Parking Charge Causes Uproar

It’s about convenience, not the money.

That’s what Ocean City officials reported this week after getting hammered on social media over its new $50 park-all-day fee at the Inlet parking lot on the Fourth of July.

The public is not buying that contention one bit and many are angry over what is being perceived as a blatant gouging of motorists and an attack on day-trippers.

Although many are just hearing about this change now, this decision was made months ago and it was reported at that time. However, like many things, the uproar did not come then because it was months away. Now, with the Fourth looming, the public, or at least those with some social media savvy, have expressed their outrage. This is just the latest public relations black eye the resort has endured on the parking front in recent months.

Here’s a G-rated post that generally sum up the opposition to this move: “So sad that OC has decided their bottom line is more important than the tourists. I’m ashamed that they have decided to do this. You are driving families away from a fun experience. Terrible and stupid public relations move …”

Here’s another of the tame variety: “What else can OC government come up with to gouge tourists? If they really wanted to benefit the tourists and the town all of OC would have free parking on the 4th of July – like the rest of America that celebrates this holiday … perhaps the Mayor and Council need to do a little research to remember exactly what this holiday is about.”

In response, Communications Manager Jessica Waters reiterated the move is not about revenue and is aimed at addressing some long-standing issues associated with the busy holiday.
“There is a misconception, and why people are getting upset is that they think it was done for revenue purposes but it was not … it was a decision that was made to improve operations for our visitors and hopefully make traffic flow a little smoother, and avoid having people pay for time they are waiting in traffic … the good news is we have multiple options for parking,” Waters said.

Although Waters’ point is valid, the general feeling seems to be if it’s not about revenue generation, then the flat fee should be lowered. Detractors have a point there.

A comparison of charges is helpful here. The town charges $2.50 per hour on weekdays to park in the Inlet parking lot. Therefore, if a motorist parks at 5 a.m. and stays until midnight, covering a 19-hour period, the fee will be $47.50. Of course, that is highly unlikely. A more moderate approach would be to consider a beach arrival time of 10 a.m. with plans to stay all day and through the night to after the fireworks to 11 p.m. That would have cost $32.50 previously, compared to the flat fee of $50.

We think the $50 fee is too high as well, but agree with the methodology the city used to alter the fee model. The fact is many people watch the fireworks on the beach and then head home immediately thereafter. That means they are paying to sit in their cars as they wait to pay the attendant. That can be aggravating. The flat fee erases that situation.

It’s going to be interesting to see how this fee goes over next Thursday. Many will surely be unaware of the change in policy, and that could result in issues at the entrance to the lot from motorists who refuse to pay it. They will likely be granted access, but only to turn around and immediately leave the lost.

The parking lot is going to fill and reach capacity, probably sometime mid-afternoon. What will be compelling is reviewing a comparison of when the lot first filled up last year as opposed to this year as well as the impact on traffic after the fireworks.

Obviously, the revenue numbers are going to surge, but officials maintain the move was not made for that reason.  Of course, once the revenue increase is realized, it will be even more difficult for the city to maintain it was not about the money.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.