Downtown TC Parking Proposals: Fee Changes, Bus Shelters, New Website
By Beth Milligan | March 13, 2019
Traverse City Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board members will discuss several parking-related proposals at their 8am meeting Friday – among them fee changes that could include eliminating a same-day discount for paying parking tickets, the construction of six new bus shelters downtown, and the launch of a new city parking website.
The DDA’s parking subcommittee is recommending ending a program that allows parking violators to only pay $5 for their tickets – instead of the usual $10 – if they pay on the same day they receive the ticket. The program was introduced in January 2018 as a way to incentivize people to pay their tickets on time and increase the DDA’s collections rate. But according to Parking Director Nicole VanNess, a large number of parkers weren’t paying attention to the same-day requirement to receive the $5 discount, sending in $5 payments days or weeks after the fact when the rate had jumped up to $10. The partial payment would result in follow-up letters and calls, often leading to time-consuming appeals processes or escalating fines because full payment wasn’t submitted. Nearly one-third of the follow-up notices that went out in 2018 for parking tickets were due to $5 partial payments, according to department data.
While the program did increase the DDA’s overall collections rate, the administrative headache of following-up on partial payments placed an undue burden on the parking department, VanNess says. “Each month, we have increased staff time for calls by 135-160 minutes, back-office processes by 9-16 hours, and printing and postage in order to collect the additional $5 balance” and address escalating fines, VanNess wrote to DDA CEO Jean Derenzy. “Based on this information, we would like to reconsider offering the discount.”
VanNess also tells The Ticker that parking staff endured frequent irate calls from parkers who didn’t understand the discount was only valid for one day, with those individuals also sending angry emails to DDA board members and city commissioners. “It’s just been a very difficult issue…if we go back to the way it was, there will be no discount or confusion of when (payment) is due, and we can say we tried it and it didn’t work,” she says. “We’re sorry to have to reverse it for those who were willing to pay attention, but it just wasn’t working for us.”
DDA board members Friday will also consider fee changes for city event parking. In one policy recommendation, the charge for event planners taking over city parking lots is proposed to increase over the next five years. Under the existing policy, planners of high-impact events – like the Traverse City Microbrew & Music Festival, previously held in the farmer’s market parking lot – would pay $2.37 per metered space and $2.40 per non-metered space to use a city parking lot. Low-impact events have not been charged for parking lot usage. The new policy would charge all events, regardless of size, a rate of $7.50 per space for for-profits and $3.25 for nonprofits. “Any time a lot is unavailable for use, (it) causes fatigue on permit holders and the public by reducing space availability,” according to VanNess. The fee rate is proposed to increase gradually over the next several years until hitting the $7.50/$3.25 rate by 2023.
Meanwhile, residents and visitors looking for long-term parking downtown during events like the National Cherry Festival and Traverse City Film Festival could soon have more options. With parking garages often reaching capacity during these events, the parking subcommittee is recommending allowing drivers to park in downtown’s two-hour and four-hour spots for up to 10 hours during special events.
“We do understand that this may reduce the turnover in these lots, but feel as though it may also benefit those who are intending to be downtown for a longer period of time,” VanNess says. Individuals only parking for a maximum of two or four hours in those respective spaces would still pay the normal $1 per hour rate – but beyond that window, the hourly rate would slightly increase, resulting in a total $15 to park for 10 hours. If the policy is approved, the DDA will explore signage options to notify parkers when extended parking is available during events, as well as to change payment options on the mobile app Parkmobile, according to VanNess.
Other parking proposals on Friday’s agenda include a recommendation to purchase six bus shelters to install in downtown Traverse City – thereby encouraging mass transit use and reducing parking demand downtown – and a contract to build a new dedicated city parking website. The six new bus shelters at Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA) stops would cost $26,000 total and would provide riders with shelter from the elements, as well as “serve as an information station where we can display upcoming events or highlight downtown businesses,” says VanNess. One of the shelters would replace an outdated shelter behind the U.S. Post Office, while another would go on the reconstructed Eighth Street this summer – with the other four distributed throughout downtown. “We are looking at stops that are heavily used, and also looking at spreading them out – so West Front, East Front, Union or Cass on the south side,” explains VanNess.
Finally, a proposed $10,300 contract with OneUpWeb would pay for the creation of a new parking-only website for the city. The DDA has been working on creating three separate sites for its different divisions, including one for the Downtown Traverse City Association – which is focused on restaurants, retail stores, and events – and one for the DDA, which is focused on downtown governance. The third site, a parking site, would allow users to quickly and easily access parking maps, permit information, violations, ordinances, and other relevant details. “What we hear the most when we tell people to go to the website is that they just want to find something about parking,” says VanNess. “Instead of (information) being mixed in with restaurants and shops, it’ll be parking only.”
Any parking proposals approved by DDA board members Friday will next go to Traverse City commissioners for final approval.