Follow the Data, Lower Parking Rates

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Paid parking graphicWhen the City Council approved a new parking meter rate policy in 2010 we stressed the importance of a rational, outcome-based policy that could be applied consistently and fairly in every neighborhood business district.

Last fall the Council was told by the Mayor’s budget office and transportation managers there would be no further changes to parking rates in 2013 to allow the public to get used to the changes applied in 2012, but the Mayor recently announced lowered rates in one neighborhood. If we’re going to make changes at all this year, we should adhere to the data and lower parking meter rates in up to 13 paid parking areas in neighborhood business districts.

Let’s recap.

When the Council adopted the new approach to setting meter rates our goal was to (1) price meter rates based on demand in order to keep one or two spaces available on each block in our neighborhood business districts, (2) reduce congestion and environmental harm from drivers cruising for an open space and (3) shift from a revenue-based approach to an outcome-based policy. (I wrote extensively about these new policies when they were being developed.)

Since our policy shift, the City’s transportation department has indeed raised and lowered meter rates in several areas. For 2012, meter rates were lowered in Capitol Hill south, the Pioneer Square periphery and the northwest corner of South Lake Union. They were raised in the Ballard core, Belltown south, the South Lake Union 10-hour areas and the University District core.

Eventually, our desire is to shift to flexible time-of-day pricing so rates can be even more sensitive to demand. Our transportation officials have repeatedly told us that the City’s current technology doesn’t allow for this level of pricing, but the Mayor’s recent announcement includes this variation. There are other neighborhoods, such as Capitol Hill south, where the parking occupancy between the day and the evening are dramatically different and could use time-of-day pricing even more.

The 2010 policies are a smart way to manage our on-street parking resource—especially to encourage the availability of spaces in our neighborhood business districts which our retail business owners want—but they must be applied consistently and fairly.