Tweaks Planned For OC Parking System’s Second Year

OCEAN CITY – The city’s elected leaders got an overview this week of the first year of the town’s new “pay by plate” parking system, which revealed revenue was generally down across the board although some areas did better than others.

It was good news, bad news, or perhaps bad news and worse news, when the Mayor and Council this week reviewed the final numbers for parking revenue in 2018 under the new pay-by-plate system. Prior to the start of the last summer season, Ocean City transitioned from the old pay-and-display system to the more modern pay-by plate system.

Under the old system, visitors and residents would pay at kiosks at the Inlet lot, the various municipal lots around town and in certain areas on public streets and display the receipts on their dashboards. Last year, however, the Mayor and Council approved a new system in all areas where paid parking was available. Residents and visitors would pay for a certain amount of time at the new kiosks and the payment amount and time allotted were assigned to the vehicle’s license plate.

The new system was implemented on the streets where paid parking was available, at the municipal lots and at the Inlet lot. At the Inlet lot, the new system also included a license plate reader at the entrance to record when a certain vehicle entered and left the lot in order to capture those that came in and parked but did not utilize the new Parkeon pay-by-plate kiosks.

The end result of the changes was a net loss in parking revenue for the town in the first year, although some areas did better than others. Overall, parking revenue in the first year under the new system was down about one percent over the prior year.

For example, the Inlet lot netted $2.3 million in parking revenue in 2018 compared to around $2.4 million in 2017, representing a decline of about 4 percent. Net revenue from the paid street parking in 2018 came in at around $1.14 million, down from the $1.22 million collected in 2017, representing a decrease of around 6 percent. Finally, the parking revenue from the various municipal lots dropped from $1.08 million in 2017 to $904,000 in 2018, for a decrease of about 16 percent.

“Parking revenue was down in 2018,” City Engineer Terry McGean told the Mayor and Council on Tuesday. “It was down across the board in each location. It was nothing to do with the new system, but was much more weather-related. Everything was down slightly or flat last year.”

McGean said some areas saw larger declines in parking revenue than others and, again, it was largely attributed to the often-rainy weather last summer. For example, the various municipal lots saw revenue decline by as much as 16 percent.

“The municipal lots are where we really saw a drop,” he said. “When the weather is bad, people try to park as close to their destination as possible and bypass the municipal lots that might be a few blocks away.”

Largely because of confusion with the new system and the associated learning curve for residents and visitors, McGean explained revenue from parking tickets also declined

“One of the reasons for the drop-off in ticket revenue, quite frankly, is because we were very flexible and generous while implementing the new system,” he said. “We erred on the side of don’t issue a ticket if there was a problem in the lots in the first year of the new system because we knew there would be a learning curve.”

That was not necessarily a bad thing, according to McGean, who said the intent of implementing the new system was never to issue more tickets and collect more revenue in that way.

“Fines are not where we want to make our money,” he said. “The goal is actually to reduce fines by making the new system easy to navigate and raise the revenue in other areas.”

Overall, McGean said despite some of the obvious hiccups with the new system, it achieved the desired results in the first year and plans were in place to address some of the lessons learned heading into season two.

“The system did what we expected it to do,” he said. “It reduced operational costs and it saved us money. Overall, we were really pleased with the results although there are things that need to be addressed.”

Overall, the new paid parking system, especially at the Inlet lot, was fraught with issues, largely because of the learning curve. For example, many guests were not certain how to use the new kiosks or waited in line to get to the kiosks. Other waited in line, only to realize they had to enter their license plate numbers which they hadn’t memorized. In addition, there were peak times when it appeared there weren’t enough kiosks available to serve the traffic flow.

McGean explained there were plans in place to eliminate some of those issues. For example, two kiosks will be moved from lesser-used areas in the municipal lots or on the street. In addition, the proposed budget calls for the addition of another parking “ambassador,” or an individual who assists visitors with navigating the new system. The plan going forward also includes better signage and a ramped-up outreach and education program for new users.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

Alternative Text

Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.