Reinette Senum: The counter intuitive act of raising parking rates
Many are asking, “Why is Nevada City raising its parking meter fees?”
“Is it trying to lose business?”
It is believed by many that parking meter fees spoil the economic activity of a downtown by discouraging customers from parking. However, studies over the course of decades have proven otherwise.
What is most discouraging to visitors is finding no parking at all. Adjusting our parking meter fees actually uses economic incentives to encourage people to park where we want them.
Surprisingly, there is a science behind healthy parking in a downtown. Dozens of studies conducted over the decades have found that on average 30% of cars congested in traffic were cruising for parking. Cities across the nation have learned that free curb parking in a congested city gives a temporary benefit to the few lucky drivers that happen to find a parking place, while creating large social costs for everyone else. In order to counter these issues, cities, for years now, have been adding parking fees throughout their downtowns. City officials have been adjusting their prices by location and even time of day so as to produce the perfect “sweet spot” of 85% occupancy rate for curb parking which is equal to one to two vacancies on a typical block per eight curb spaces.
This is called the Goldilocks principle of parking prices or performance pricing. If the price is too high there will be too many spaces available and if the price is too low there will not be enough.
A lack of parking spaces is what Nevada City has been experiencing for years now thus telling us the price is too low.
Fortunately, the City Council and its staff can adjust accordingly and remediate this price point relatively quickly so as to maximize its parking by ensuring visitors, errand runners, theater goers, delivery drivers, and our locals/employees are all accommodated in a high demand area.
While the amount varies from city to city, a common rule of thumb for the value of a prime on-street parking space is approximately $150-$300 in retail sales generated per day. Six days per week, 52 weeks per year, one parking space generates approximately $46,800 to $93,600 in sales for our downtown businesses. Losses of these prime-parking spaces means a loss of visitors, sales receipts, jobs and tax revenue for the city.
For Nevada City, recouping these loses means we can pay for a siren atop city hall, vegetation/fire mitigation along our streets and city-owned property, and a new street sweeper, to name a few items.
The strategy behind healthy parking policy is to improve performance in three different ways. First, curb parking will perform more efficiently if all but one or two parking spaces are available on every block, ensuring parking will remain readily available for drivers who want to park. Second, the overall transportation system within downtown will perform much more efficiently because cruising for parking will greatly decline, thus reducing congestion, pollution, fuel consumption, and visitors’ loss of time. Third, downtown retailers will see an increase in their business because they are not losing customers that ultimately leave in frustration and take their business elsewhere.
At this point, I suggest the City Council consider a proposal to create tiered parking throughout Nevada City. For example, have a handful of very short-term 20-minute parking spaces for 50 cents strategically placed near the coffee shops or stores that have quick drop-ins. These would have the fastest turnover rate and would keep these spaces readily available for short visits. Then have two-hour parking at $1 per hour in the heart of downtown for those that want to enjoy a meal or stroll through stores.
The last tier would be further out on the less populated streets and parking lots at possibly 50 cents per hour for all-day parking. These longer term parking lots could include a monthly to bi-annual parking permits that do not harm employees’ pocket books, but encourages them to avoid parking in prime locations.
This may take the city time to fine tune, but we have the capacity to act swiftly in making changes accordingly as we find that sweet spot in parking. Few other options give the city the ability to generate additional economic activity, create additional parking, all while providing parking for locals, employees and visitors alike.
In addition, do know that the city still has 227 free parking spaces throughout downtown.
We thank our residents and business owners for attending the Special Chamber BOD meeting on July 12 and providing discussion and comments regarding the parking meter program changes that have been considered.
This item will be on the July 23 City Council agenda and we invite all residents and merchants to attend. Please keep in mind that there has been great thought and consideration behind these changes and I feel that in time our community will reap the benefits.
Reinette Senum is mayor of Nevada City.
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