OCEAN CITY — Despite the desires of at least one councilmember, it appears there will not be a seasonal parking pass made available at the Inlet parking lot, at least for the first season under the new system.
Earlier this year, the Mayor and Council approved a new state-of-the-art parking payment and enforcement system for the Inlet lot. The new system utilizes License Plate Reader (LPR) technology and has resulted in a switch from the old pay and display system to a “pay by plate” system. As a result, the traditional gated system has been replaced with a combination of LPRs at the entrance and exit to the Inlet lot along with new solar-powered kiosks where residents and visitors can pay for parking. There is also an app available for users to pay for parking via a mobile device.
During a budget work session last week, Councilman Wayne Hartman brought up the subject of possibly offering seasonal passes at a cost loosely based on the average revenue generated from a parking space at the Inlet lot in season. The removal of the old gated system along with other changes has created around 73 additional parking spaces at the Inlet lot and Hartman questioned if there was an opportunity to sell seasonal passes to residents, downtown business owners or employees who park there almost every day during the summer.
“With 73 additional parking spaces, someone approached me to see about the possibility of purchasing a seasonal pass for the Inlet lot,” he said. “It would not guarantee a parking spot, but because we have the ability to eliminate that tag number, it certainly may be a service to some of those frequent users down there. It would also eliminate some of the congestion in the streets with people looking for parking.”
City Manager Doug Miller said the seasonal pass idea had not been considered yet because the LPR system was so new and there were bugs to correct and parking revenue data to collect.
“I would offer that this is a great departure from what we’re used to,” he said. “This season is going to take a lot of getting used to. It’s not that it’s a bad idea. I’m just asking that we get through this first year with the new system.”
The new Inlet lot system uses LPR technology to record license plate numbers and the time spent on the lot by that particular license plate. Hartman said seasonal pass holders could have their tags taken out of the system fairly easily.
“It would be easy to do by eliminating the tag numbers of the season pass holders,” he said. “That’s not a complicated thing to do for the season. Just like there are certain tags in there now that are exempt from enforcement.”
Budget Manager Jennie Knapp said there were a lot of factors involved in a proposed seasonal pass system including a fair price for they buyers and the city and the number of permits to issue. She agreed with the season quickly approaching, there was likely little time to work out those details in the first year.
“We would have to think of what to charge for that,” she said. “We have to think of how many passes you’d like to allow. There are a number of things we’d have to think through with this.”
Council Secretary Mary Knight did not dismiss the seasonal pass idea, but did agree it was likely too late to implement the program in the first year.
“I would want to look at when we’re busy and if there are open spots,” she said. “I think that all plays into this equation. I know that Ocean Pines is charging around $2,500 a summer for spaces at their beach club if you’re not a member of the association. I don’t think it’s a bad idea, I just agree we should get through this first summer and then make a decision based on the numbers.”
Hartman continued to push forward the discussion, pointing out the seasonal pass holders could only park on the Inlet lot at a time when it was not already full. He said specific spots on the Inlet lot would not be dedicated to the seasonal pass holders.
“I don’t think the traffic is going to change at the Inlet lot,” he said. “The only thing that’s changing is the way we collect the parking fees. Our way of collecting allows us to do this. If we do this, we’re not guaranteeing a parking space. If the lot is full the lot is full.”
Councilman Dennis Dare questioned if a proposal should even be considered for the prime Inlet lot parking spaces.
“This sounds like we’re going to take premium parking spaces and allow employees and residents to park where customers for the beach and Boardwalk are going to park,” he said. “It sounds counter-productive to what we really want to accomplish. It sounds like these are folks who should be considering the Park-and-Ride if they are coming from out of town. If they are in town, maybe they should be considering public transit.”
However, Hartman reminded his colleagues of one of the pillars of the town’s strategic plan.
“Just remember our stated goal is making Ocean City a more livable community,” he said. “If this is something the residents want us to make available, I think that’s what we’re up here for. To think that we’d be doing a disservice to the town by taking care of our residents is a philosophy I can’t relate to.”
Mayor Rick Meehan said there was likely a time and place for the seasonal pass discussion, but probably not on the eve of a new summer season.
“I’m not opposed to the discussion about permits for that lot at a price that’s appropriate, but there are other challenges too,” he said. “Is it just for the residents or could it be available to someone else? Who would be allowed to get them? There are just a lot of questions at this point.”
Knapp pointed out the estimated $2,300 each Inlet spot generates could be deceiving because it’s based on the spots turning over a couple times a day during the summer.
“That $2,300 doesn’t take into account the turnover,” she said. “If you have a pass, I feel like there is an opportunity to somebody to go down there and park for a long length of time. It’s something we need to think through very carefully. The Inlet lot is a big source of revenue for the town.”
There was no more discussion on potential seasonal passes at the Inlet lot for this summer although the door was left open for more discussion in the future.