Study: City should charge for curbside parking

Mar. 23, 2013 @ 06:45 PM

Consultants hired by the city say that it should start charging motorists for curbside parking in many parts of downtown, to encourage them to use decks and alleviate “localized deficiencies” in the supply of spaces.

The suggested $1.25-an-hour charge for curbside spaces would also generate income the city needs if it wants to stop subsidizing its parking operation with tax revenue, the report from Kimley-Horn and Associates indicates.

Still in draft form, the study suggests charging for about 750 curbside spaces, located within the downtown loop and near the American Tobacco complex, West Village and Brightleaf Square.

Its authors suggest that instead of traditional parking meters, the city should offer drivers the ability to pay by cell phone, by calling or texting when they occupy a space and adding time later if necessary. The system would tie in with a motorist’s credit card.

As a fallback for those without cell phones, the city also would need to install automated pay stations or kiosks where motorists could provide the information needed for payment.

The consultants who are working on the study think it would take the city about a year and a half to get ready, including the purchase and installation of necessary equipment. That means the earliest curbside parking fees could go live would be the start of 2015.

But the idea needs City Council approval first, and the council isn’t likely to receive a formal briefing on the study until the late summer, City Manager Tom Bonfield said.

Transportation Department officials, business leaders and the consultants also want to give the public a chance to weigh in before Kimley-Horn finalizes the report.

“They’ve got quite a bit of work to do” before the document’s ready for the council, Bonfield said.

Durham now allows people to park at the curb downtown and in the areas around it for free, subject only to posted daytime time limits that in some places are as short as 20 minutes and as long as two hours.

There are 1,505 curbside spaces throughout the study area, and it’s clear there are “a fair percentage of users” breaking the time limits, the study says.

Kimley-Horn looked at all sorts of parking, not just the curbside spaces.

It found that the supply of private- and public-owned parking in downtown is ample at present, though the roughly 4,000-space surplus is “deceiving” because there are localized shortages that could get worse as redevelopment continues to unfold.

As they would for a private-sector development, the consultants assume motorists will walk only so far to their destination after leaving their vehicle.

So while there are “substantially more spaces than we have demand for, we just don’t have the spaces in the right place,” Bonfield said, summarizing his read of the draft.

Instituting fees for curbside parking would change motorists’ incentives and free up room in some of the more space-pinched areas, particularly if, at the program’s launch, the city retains the existing $1 hourly fee for using its decks, the consultants said.

More broadly, they said, the city ought to raise the price of monthly parking passes for decks and public surface lots, going up in most cases by $10. The usual rate now for a space in a deck is $55.

In fiscal 2012-13, the city’s on track to raise about $2.6 million via parking fees and fines. That’s well short of the $3.9 million the system is costing the city, as officials cover debt service and maintenance costs with tax revenue.

Kimley-Horn’s report says fee increases will be necessary if officials want the parking system to pay for itself.

The consultants figure it’ll take about a decade’s worth of cash flow to get over the break-even mark, given fee increases at five-year intervals and the potential need to build one more deck without contributions from a private-sector developer.

Paid curbside parking is key to the break-even projection, as consultants report that a decade on it’ll account for about $933,000 in annual income.

All told, there are 15,581 parking spaces downtown and in the business districts around it. The city controls 8,815 of those. The rest – about 43 percent of the total – are privately owned and used.