OCEAN CITY — After clearing up some loose ends, resort officials this week approved a resolution setting in stone changes in the public parking rate structure in the coming season at the Inlet lot, municipal lots and on the streets.
After numerous meetings, the resort’s parking task force last month forwarded recommendations for tweaking the rate structure for public parking in areas where it already exists. In simplest terms, the recommendations included a modest rate hike of 50 cents per hour in most areas during the peak of the summer season, with a throwback to the consumer in the form of times in the shoulder seasons when paid parking is eliminated.
The goal of the task force’s undertaking was to explore ways to increase revenue from parking to help offset growing budget demands and shift some of the responsibility for maintaining the beach and Boardwalk to the day-trippers, all while keeping a paid parking fee schedule fair and palatable to all consumers.
The approved Option C appears to achieve those goals, according to city officials. Under Option C, parking at the Inlet lot would be free during the week from Monday to Thursday in April and May and again in October. The hourly rate at the Inlet lot on weekends in those shoulder months would be $3, while the hourly rate would go to $3.50 per hour in June, July, August and September.
At the municipal lots and existing on-street paid parking areas, the same formula would be applied. In those areas, parking would be free during the week in the shoulder seasons and $2 per hour on the weekends. The hourly rate would then jump to $3 per hour in June, July, August and September. Those recommendations would result in an estimated $980,000 in new net parking revenue.
The Mayor and Council last month reviewed and approved the task force’s recommendations. On Monday, the elected officials codified the changes in the parking rate structure with the unanimous passage of a resolution, but not before addressing a few concerns with the payment system and the varying fees and grace periods for handicapped parking.
Councilman Tony DeLuca made a motion on Monday to approve the resolution, a motion seconded by Council Secretary Mary Knight. Before a vote was taken, however, Knight sought clarification on the payment mechanism accommodating the rate changes.
“I wanted to make sure with the 50-cent increments that our Park-Mobile system can accommodate that change,” she said. “I understand there may have been some concerns about the 50 cents versus the even dollar amounts.”
City Engineer Terry McGean explained those concerns have been addressed and the existing paid parking systems can accommodate the changes.
“The concerns we had with the 50-cent change was at the machines that accept bills,” he said. “If you put in three dollars, for example, because the bill collectors do not give change, we want to make sure you get the time that you purchased. We did confirm that the machines will give however many minutes you pay for. We are comfortable with that.”
Another issue raised before the resolution was passed on Monday related to the grace periods defined for handicapped parking. McGean explained at the Inlet lot, there will be a half-hour grace period without paying for parking for all vehicles whether they are handicapped or not. The conventional thinking is some vehicles simply drive through the Inlet lot to drop off or pick up visitors to the beach and Boardwalk and there is currently a half-hour grace period for that before paid parking kicks in. McGean explained that grace period would be the same at the Inlet lot for all vehicles.
“At the Inlet lot, there is no other special exception for handicapped parking,” he said. “The same rates will apply for all vehicles.”
However, handicapped parking vehicles will enjoy a longer grace period in other areas where paid parking exists including the on-street areas downtown and the municipal lots.
“At the Inlet lot, there is a half-hour grace period for all vehicles,” said McGean. “For all other areas, there is a one-hour grace period for handicap parking. At the Inlet lot, it’s a half-hour for everyone.”
Satisfied the loose-end concerns had been addressed, the council voted 6-0, with Councilman Matt James absent, to approve the resolution. While the resolution does include a modest rate hike during the peak summer months, the task force did not include any recommendations for expanding paid parking beyond areas where it already exists. There was considerable discussion about expanding paid parking north from 11th Street to 33rd Street, or even to the Delaware line, but those concepts got no traction during the task force work sessions.