OCEAN CITY — After a significant drop-off in Inlet lot parking revenue on the Fourth of July last summer, resort officials this week tweaked the formula with an increased hourly rate on the popular holiday.
For several years, the Town of Ocean City charged a flat rate to park on the Inlet lot on the Fourth of July to, among other things, alleviate the congestion often associated with hundreds of vehicles leaving at the same time and paying before leaving at the exit booths. For example, for years the July 4 Inlet lot rates were set on a graduated scale including a $50 fee for cars entering the lot between 6 a.m. and noon, a $30 rate for cars entering the lot between noon and 3 p.m. and a $20 rate for vehicles entering the lot after 3 p.m.
In the last year of the sliding flat rate system, the Inlet lot grossed nearly $83,000 on the Fourth of July alone. Last year, however, the town implemented a new pay-by-plate parking system at the Inlet, thereby alleviating the need for paying at the exit booth when leaving the lot. Incidentally, the traditional back-ups leaving the Inlet lot after the fireworks on the Fourth were not alleviated, not as a result of any shortcomings of the new parking system, but rather the inability of Baltimore Avenue and downtown streets to absorb hundreds of vehicles leaving the lot at the same time.
Nonetheless, the Inlet lot on July 4th last summer generated just over $58,000 last year. Over 4,200 vehicles entered the Inlet lot last July 4 and the average stay was around six-and-a-half hours, which is more that twice the average length of stay on the lot on a typical summer day. As a result, City Engineer Terry McGean and staff reviewed the drop-off last year and recommended going back to the flat-rate system so successful in prior years.
“We didn’t do the flat rate this year because of the new system,” said McGean on Tuesday. “We’re recommending going back to a flat rate of $40 all day on the Fourth because the new system has problems with the sliding scale. The $40 flat rate on the Fourth would be in effect all day from 12:01 a.m. to 11:59 p.m.”
However, Councilman Dennis Dare suggested raising the hourly rate at the Inlet lot on the Fourth of July from $3 to $5 to achieve the desired revenue results and alleviate the congestion of hundreds of vehicles leaving.
“What if you did $5 an hour all day?” he said. “Can the new machines do that? You could actually make more money if the average stay on that day is over six hours. Also, for those who paid the $40 flat rate and only stayed for say three hours, they wouldn’t feel like they were getting ripped off. It’s just a thought.”
Councilman Mark Paddack made a motion to adopt Dare’s $5 hourly rate on the Inlet lot on the Fourth of July.
“We looked at various different options,” he said. “To go from over $80,000 two years ago to $58,000 last year was disappointing. The reason we used to have the staggered rate is some people would come at 6 a.m. and leave at 4 p.m. and others would come at 4 p.m. and stay for the fireworks. I think this $5 hourly rate is a good idea and it’s a reasonable price for a holiday. Some of the private lots in town are charging $50 or even $100 to park all day on the Fourth of July.”
Mayor Rick Meehan agreed the proposed $5 per hour rate at the Inlet lot on July 4 would likely meet the town’s revenue expectations while being equitable for visitors.
“A lot of people really do stay from the time they come to the beach in the morning all the way through the fireworks at night,” he said. “They really do stay all day.”
The council voted unanimously to set the parking rate at the Inlet lot on July 4 at $5 per hour all day, essentially from midnight to midnight on the holiday.