Hourly Parking Rate Hikes Could Be Balanced With Free Shoulder Season Periods

Hourly Parking Rate Hikes Could Be Balanced With Free Shoulder Season Periods
A Park-Mobile system terminal is pictured in Ocean City. Photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY — While no firm decisions have been made much more work to be done, the resort’s parking task force appears poised to recommend a plan that would hike the rates during the peak times, but throw a bone to residents and visitors in the shoulder season.

The parking task force reconvened on Thursday after a summer hiatus, during which City Engineer Terry McGean and his staff along with consultant Dan Kupferman collected data, took aerial pictures and crunched numbers to come up with a series of options for increasing parking revenue while making it equitable and affordable for residents and visitors. Thursday’s first task force meeting after the summer break focused on the fee structure in existing paid-parking areas including the Inlet lot, the various municipal lots and on the street in certain areas downtown.

“We took the opportunity over the summer to collect some data and compile some suggestions from the committee,” said McGean. “My feeling is we got what we needed from the consultant. Now, it’s time for the committee to go to work and start forming some recommendations to the Mayor and Council. At this meeting, we’re going to review some alternatives for existing paid parking. We’re starting off with the easy one.”

Indeed, examining several alternatives for changing the rate structure in areas where paid parking already exists, including the Inlet lot, the municipal lots and on the street in the downtown areas is the low-hanging fruit for the task force. In subsequent meetings, the task force will explore adding on-street paid parking in the ocean block from 11th to 33rd streets or perhaps even 11th Street to the Delaware line, but that is a discussion for another day.

On Thursday, the focus was on the areas where paid parking already exists and McGean presented several alternatives based on his own observations, the information collected, the consultant’s recommendations and suggestions from the task force members. Each came with different hourly rates at certain times of the year, beginning and ending times for paid parking and the potential revenue increases, which is essentially the bottom line.

Before each option was dissected, task force member Brett Wolfe asked for a reminder of what was driving the exercise.

“Is it the goal to raise revenue with parking?” he said. “If it is, then we need to look at this differently.”

McGean said revenue was certainly the focal point of the exercise, but it had to be fair and equitable and almost every option on the table gave something back to the residents and visitors.

“The goal is to get additional revenue from parking so the day-trippers pay their fair share, but I don’t think there is a firm number we’re shooting for,” he said. “We have an asset and we’d like to maximize the revenue we get from that asset. We don’t need to look at what makes the most money necessarily, but also what pisses people off the least. There has to be a balance.”

Almost all of the options on the table appear to achieve that balance, while some do more so than others. By way of background, paid parking is currently in effect from April 1 through October 31. The current flat rate is $2 per hour in the municipal lots and on the street and $3 per hour at the Inlet lot.

Each of the proposed options would nudge those hourly rates higher, but would give something back to the consumer, either through free parking during the week in the shoulder seasons, or a free shuttle pass from the Park-and-Ride in West Ocean City into town, or a combination of both.

For example, Option C for the Inlet, an option the task force appeared poised to recommend after considerable debate on Thursday, would offer free parking from Monday through Thursday in April and May and again in September and October. The weekend rate on Friday, Saturday and Sunday would remain at $3 during the shoulder seasons and go up to $4 per hour in June, July and August, or the peak times when demand is the highest.

In essence, Option C for the Inlet lot would raise the hourly rate by a dollar in the peak times, but the trade-off would be free parking during the week in the shoulder seasons and the current rate on the weekends in the shoulder seasons. That option would increase revenue at the Inlet lot by an estimated $520,000.

While the rate would increase during the peak weeks of the summer, the consumers would be thrown a bone of sorts with the free or reduced rate in the spring and fall. Wolfe said that option appears to achieve the desired goals.

“Option C seems to give the downtown businesses what they want,” he said. “It would be free during the week and during the season it would be business as usual.”

Task Force member Chris Mitchell agreed that proposed option would accomplish the goals of the exercise.

“It’s great for the consumer,” he said. “The message is yes, we’re going to raise the rate during the peak times in June, July and August, but we’re giving back free parking during the week.”

With that said, the task force turned its attention on the municipal lots and the on-street paid parking areas below 10th Street. McGean presented several options for both, but the task force members all agreed the formula for the apparently favored Option C for the Inlet lot should be mirrored in the municipal lots and the on-street parking in order to simplify it and make it easy to understand for the consumers.

McGean presented prepared ballots outlining each of the options for the Inlet lot, the municipal lots and the on-street parking and instructed task force members to fill them out and vote for the options they favored the most. There is also an opportunity for the task force members to add comments to their ballots, or borrow an element from one of the options and add it to another. McGean instructed the task force members to return their ballots by next week, at which time he will compile the votes and the suggestions and begin forming a framework for recommendations to the Mayor and Council.

Again, while no decisions have been made and the votes haven’t been tallied, it appears the task force is in favor of hiking the parking rates during the peak season, but giving something back in the form of free parking during the week in the shoulder seasons and even possibly a free shuttle from the Park-and-Ride. There was also some discussion of weekly, monthly or seasonal passes with reduced rates. Task force member Joel Brous said the proposed formula appears to include something for everyone.

“Free parking during the week and the free shuttle pass is a slam dunk,” he said. “We would still get the revenue increases, but I think it would very palatable for our residents and guests.”

Mayor Rick Meehan agreed with most of the proposed changes.

“I think what we’re doing to offset some of the increases in terms of free days will make this fair and equitable to the public,” he said.

Task force member Bill Gibbs, who, from the beginning, has been opposed to paid parking in the offseason during the week agreed the proposed option was fair.

“I’m pleased we’re leaning toward free during the week,” he said. “It’s good for downtown and it’s good for the city. It’s also goodwill for our visitors.”

Again, addressing the existing paid parking rate structure is the low-hanging fruit for the task force. The rubber will really hit the road, so to speak, when the task force resumes discussions of adding paid parking in the ocean block north of 10th Street and perhaps to the Delaware line. Those discussions will resume in future task force meeting planned for later this fall.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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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.