Raleigh proposes to raise fees for parking, but not for everyone

The cost of parking on the street in downtown Raleigh and along Hillsborough Street would go up this fall under a budget proposal that will go before the City Council this month.
The cost of parking on the street in downtown Raleigh and along Hillsborough Street would go up this fall under a budget proposal that will go before the City Council this month. rstradling@newsobserver.com

The city plans to tinker with its parking rates this year, and for the most part that means people will pay more to park on the street and in the city’s downtown lots and decks.

On-street parking fees and what people pay to park for special events and by the month would all go up under the city’s plan, which will be folded into the budget that goes before the City Council this month.

But people who park four hours or less in a city deck downtown would actually pay less per hour than before. The goal, says Matthew Currier, the city’s parking manager, is to encourage people who are spending a few hours downtown to choose off-street parking, to free up spaces on the street.

“Parking is the first thing and the last thing that people come and do, and to me it’s the thing I don’t want them to worry about,” Currier said. “Creating turnover and having available spots helps create that perception.”

People now pay $1 to $1.25 an hour to park on the street downtown, including parts of Glenwood South, and along Hillsborough Street near N.C. State University. Those rates would go up 25 cents this fall and another 25 to 50 cents in the fall of 2020, for a top rate of $2 an hour.

And while the city now charges for on-street parking only up to 5 p.m. on weekdays, it would extend those hours to 8 p.m., to encourage turnover during the evenings. The city may also consider charging for on-street parking on Saturdays beginning in 2020.

Meanwhile, the cost to park in city decks would fall from $2 an hour to $1.50 an hour for the first four hours. It would remain $2 an hour for each hour over four, to a maximum of $14 a day, up from the current daily max of $12.

Reducing off-street parking rates compared with on-street spaces makes sense, said Bill King, president and CEO of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, which promotes businesses and development downtown.

“Your on-street spaces are your more valuable spaces, because they’re closer to businesses,” King said. “Those should be priced above your off-street, transient spaces.”

Also under the city plan, the cost to park for a special event would rise from a flat rate of $7 to $10. Currier said the goal is to simplify the payment process, so the attendant taking cash doesn’t have to handle a lot of one dollar bills.

“Inevitably that person has to make change for everybody, and that slows things down,” he said.

People who pay by the month to park in a city lot or deck would pay more as well. The city wants its rates to match what private deck and lot owners charge, Currier said, so the city isn’t undercutting them. When the city charges less than market rate for parking, he said, it discourages developers from offering public parking, constraining the supply, he said.

An unreserved spot in a city deck that costs $110 to $115 a month now would cost $125 a month starting this fall and $140 in the fall of 2020. The rates for surface lots and for reserved spaces in the decks would see similar increases.

Finally, the cost for a “lost ticket” will more than double from $12 to $25. Currier said that’s to reduce the incentive for parking in a city deck for several days and then claiming you lost your ticket on the way out.

“One of the things that we see out here is folks can park for multiple days, and with the equipment we have at the moment there’s no way to know that,” he said. “This is to discourage a little bit of that behavior.”

Mixed reaction

Currier and other representatives of the city have been meeting with citizens and business groups to get their feedback on the pricing plan. He said many people are naturally opposed to price increases but that some come to understand why it might make sense when the goals are explained.

Jeff Murison, executive director of the Hillsborough Street Community Service Corp., said parking has long been the top concern among businesses, residents and visitors to the street. Murison said people have different ideas about what would make things better, but he senses a reluctant acknowledgment that higher fees would help.

“The reaction has been mixed,” he said. “But there’s an increasing awareness that these are likely needed changes to improve our parking environment.”

Murison said the group will continue to collect feedback and give its board of directors a chance to take a position before the plan goes to the City Council.

One piece that is likely to win support, he said, is enforcing metered street parking until 8 on weeknights, which mirrors a recommendation in a Hillsborough Street parking study done for the association, the city and NCSU last summer. As it is now, students and others often park on the street for several hours starting at 5 p.m., filling spaces that could be used by people looking for dinner or a drink in the evening.

“It will force more turnover and create more opportunity for more customers to find a parking space,” he said.

It’s less clear that downtown businesses would support extending paid parking into the evening, said King of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance. He said his group is still gathering feedback to determine how people feel about it.

“We’re still figuring out who’s using the spaces after the meters are off,” he said.

Both the alliance and Hillsborough group have summarized the parking proposal on their websites and include links to forms for people to express their opinions. Go to www.hillsboroughstreet.org and look for “proposed parking changes” under the engagement bar or go to www.downtownraleigh.org/downtown-parking-public-meeting.

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Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, #census2020. He’s been a reporter or editor for 32 years, including the last 20 at The N&O. 919-829-4739, rstradling@newsobserver.com.