OCEAN CITY — Satisfied the statistics from last year illustrated a minimal impact on visitors, the Mayor and Council on Monday approved a resolution to reduce the grace period for free parking at the Inlet lot from the current 30 minutes to 20 for the upcoming season.
On the table during Monday’s Mayor and Council meeting was a resolution that would adjust the paid parking fee structure at the Inlet lot to 20-minute increments in an effort to eliminate the need for coin change and keep the line of vehicles attempting to leave the lot moving at certain busy times. However, a by-product of the proposed changes to the fee schedule at the Inlet lot would be a reduction of the free parking grace period from the current 30 minutes to 20 minutes.
When the resolution was presented for first reading in January, it was approved by a rather tenuous 4-3 vote with Councilmen Wayne Hartman, Matt James and John Gehrig opposed. Those opposed voiced concern about the potential impact on those simply driving through the Inlet lot to look at the scenery or others who were picking up or dropping off people at the beach or Boardwalk.
When the resolution came up for second reading on Monday, Hartman made a motion to reject it, which was seconded by James. With Councilman Tony DeLuca absent, it appeared briefly to resolution could be stalled or shot down if the others on the council voted the same way they did in January. However, Mayor Rick Meehan said there was new statistical information available that could allay the concerns of those opposed.
“I think when this was presented, the Transportation Committee did not anticipate some of the questions from the council,” he said. “I think it’s important to provide all of the information.”
Public Works Director Hal Adkins presented some deeper statistical information about those who utilized the free grace period last year. Adkins said he and his staff began digging deeper into the statistics after the fractured vote in January.
“When this passed by a 4-3 vote, it concerned me,” he said. “I don’t like 4-3 votes. So we went back and looked at all of the figures and I think they will put this in perspective.”
Adkins said there were 442,100 total transactions at the Inlet lot last year, of which just around 92,000, or about 21 percent, came through in under the free 30-minute grace period. He said a deeper dive into the statistics revealed that 21 percent came through in a variety of time frames from zero to five minutes, five to 10 minutes or 10 to 15 minutes, for example, and the large majority did not use their full free 30 minutes.
“About 80 percent of the 92,000 were in and out in less than 20 minutes,” he said. “I would say the largest percent of those who left in the 20 to 30 minute range did so because they were aware of the free 30-minute grace period, so I really don’t think you’re aggravating that small percentage.”
The intent is to limit the need for coin change and keep the line of vehicles leaving the Inlet lot moving at certain busy times. The goal is to adjust the fee schedule to 20-minute increments rounded to the whole dollar in order to speed up transaction times. Adkins said the two busiest times at the lot during the summer are the 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. hour when a lot of beachgoers are leaving, and the 9:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. time frame when a lot of families are leaving the Boardwalk.
“When you have a large number of free individuals in line, there are people further back that may have been there three to four hours,” he said. “They might threshold into the next pay period because of the delays.”
Another issue for some on the council during the first debate on the issue in January was the $72 fee for a lost ticket. The proposal on the table called for raising the fee for a lost ticket from $48 to $72, however, those who opposed the resolution on first reading thought the increase was exorbitant, especially for those who legitimately lost their tickets.
Adkins said the reasoning behind the increase for a lost ticket was there are 24 hours in a day, times $3 per hour to park at the Inlet lot equals $72. Adkins said the statistical research revealed there were only four cases of lost tickets all last summer, and in most cases the Inlet lot staff and supervisors worked out something with those who legitimately lost their tickets. He said the $72 fee was mostly directed at those who try to skirt around the system and park at the Inlet lot overnight or even a full weekend.
“I don’t think we’ve ever charged the full amount for a lost ticket. If you did away with the $72 fee, let me paint a picture,” he said. “Somebody rolls in on a Friday night and leaves on Sunday. Then they tell us they lost their ticket, or did they? They have been there three days and are paying $72. That’s quite a deal.”
Adkins said the statistics point out the obvious benefits of the fee structure change at the Inlet lot versus the minimal impact on the small percentage affected by the reduction of the grace period to 20 minutes and urged the council to approve the resolution.
“We came to the Transportation Committee and presented the rate structure change as a means to eliminate coin change,” he said. “After looking at it statistically, our recommendation is sticking with the resolution.”
Adkins said the statistics changed his own opinion following the first debate on the issue in mid-January.
“I did not feel that way the night of the 4-3 vote,” he said. “It opened my eyes and caused me to go back and start drilling down into the statistics. The 80 percent are leaving before 20 minutes anyway, and the other 20 percent will realize they don’t have 30 minutes more, they only have 20 minutes, and they’re going to high-tail it out of there anyway.”
Hartman said his opinion of the Inlet lot fee structure changes including the reduction in the free grace period had also been changed in light of the new statistical information.
“I must admit you’ve opened my eyes as well,” he said. “This is information we didn’t have the last time.”
In terms of the $72 fee for a lost ticket, Hartman said he was satisfied the sample size was small enough at just four cases last year that it didn’t make a big difference. As far as those who attempt to skirt around the lost ticket issue to park long-term at the Inlet lot at a fairly reduced rate, Hartman said he could live with that also. It was pointed out at the January meeting the Ocean City Police Department does a good job of enforcing the no sleeping in vehicles policy on the Inlet lot and the Public Works staff also patrols to eliminate overnight parking.
“If somebody is trying to manipulate the system and they can live with doing it, then I can live with it,” he said.
With that said, Hartman withdrew his motion to reject the resolution and James withdrew his second. Hartman then made a motion to pass the resolution, which was seconded by James, and the measure passed with a unanimous 6-0 vote with DeLuca absent.