City Has A Rate Debate

April 27, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Although it’s too early to tell what the outcome will be, there is a pretty decent chance that parking commissioners will raise rates at city-owned ramps, lots and meters by a larger amount than Parking Services Director Pam Ritsema suggested, and possibly to more types of parking than she recommended last week.

“We need a 2.5 percent increase for monthly parking and no increases for daily parking,” said Ritsema.

Ritsema told commissioners that she put together the department’s 2009 budget with that percentage increase, which would give Parking Services about $140,000 in additional revenue for the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1.

Ritsema said her department had a healthy 2007 fiscal year as revenue came in above the projection and exceeded expenses by nearly $2.7 million. She said much of the revenue gain came from the JW Marriott construction project, as regular parkers near the hotel site moved into city facilities.

The current fiscal year forecast gives the department almost a $2.3 million surplus, but that net income figure drops to $141,000 for FY09.

“I think these numbers are more conservative than the actuals will be. We have to see how fiscal year ’08 comes out to be,” she said. “The city is looking to cut our compensation by 6.4 percent, so that should lower our expenses.”

But Parking Commissioners John Tully, David Kammeraad and Monica Sekulich called for rates to rise by the Consumers Price Index, which reached 4.2 percent in January, and for the increases to be applied across the board and not just to monthly parking.

“It’s been too long since we’ve had a significant increase and our expenses keep going up. It’s better to spread increases over increments than to do it all at once,” said Kammeraad.

Sekulich said the commission couldn’t just ask monthly parkers to accept an increase in parking charges, and Tully pointed out that meter fees haven’t been raised since 2005. Tully also said the hourly fees at ramps and lots shouldn’t be raised.

The idea behind raising meter prices but not hourly rates at facilities is to get parkers out of the higher-priced street spots and into the less expensive ramps and lots. But it’s not only an economic concern for them; it’s also an environmental one, because of parkers who circle blocks waiting for a metered spot to become available.

The environmental concern is underlined in a book written by UCLA Professor Donald Shoup: “The High Cost of Free Parking.” In the book, Schoup cited a 1984 study of a 15-block area near the university. The research found that “cruisers” drove the equivalent of two roundtrips to the moon while looking for curb parking during a one-year period. Those drivers cruised the streets for 100,000 hours, consumed 47,000 gallons of gas and produced 700 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

In the “Mythology of Parking,” an article written by Jeffrey Tumlin and Adam Milard-Ball for the December 2004 issue of Line Magazine, the solution to curtailing cruising isn’t to build more parking but to charge more for the “most desirable, most scarce parking spaces.”

“I think (Ritsema) has heard the financial concerns and the environmental concerns,” said Lisa Haynes, chairwoman of the Parking Commission.

Commissioners asked Ritsema to put together across-the-board increases of 4.2 percent for their review next month. Any changes parking commissioners make to rates have to be approved by city commissioners.

“I think all we are going to do by not agreeing to rates increases is cost the parking department money,” said Sekulich. “It’s not going to change behaviors.”

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