There’s more than a nickel’s worth of interest in increasing the rates at downtown parking meters.
Several leaders of Downtown Lawrence Inc. on Wednesday were open to the idea of increasing the price people must pay to get a parking spot along Massachusetts Street.
“We’re probably out of step with what is going on elsewhere,” said Bob Schumm, a downtown restaurant owner, of parking rates charged in Lawrence.
Schumm is leading a group of downtown business owners who are coming up with suggestions on how the city may want to change its parking system. The report is expected to be presented to Downtown Lawrence Inc. in early March, and to city commissioners sometime after that.
So far, no one has suggested a specific amount that fees should be increased.
Currently, the city charges a nickel for 12 minutes, a dime for 24 minutes and a quarter for 60 minutes at meters along Massachusetts Street. The meters have a two-hour time limit.
“It is pretty inexpensive here,” said Judy Billings, leader of the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Just this weekend, I overheard people from out of town saying how cheap it is to put money in our parking meters.”
Merchants said they’re studying the issue because it appears likely that city commissioners will consider increasing parking rates. City Manager David Corliss has said he likely will ask city commissioners to consider an increase in parking fees to help deal with tight budget times. Merchants hope any new money will be used to preserve downtown maintenance programs and other projects.
In 2007, parking fees and overdue parking fines generated $898,803, but the city spent $1.01 million in parking-related expenses. The parking fund pays for not only the employees who monitor the meters but also pays for three police officers and two court clerk workers,
It wasn’t immediately clear when the city last increased parking meter rates. In 2004, commissioners increased the overdue parking fine to $2.
Leaders with Downtown Lawrence said they know commissioners may consider increasing overdue fines as well. Several business owners, though, said they would rather see the city focus on increasing the price at the meters rather than significantly increasing the fine for parking too long. Several said they thought the fines had more potential to leave customers with hard feelings about their downtown experience.
Other ideas that were discussed at Wednesday’s downtown meeting:
• Expanding the hours that the city charges people to park. Currently, the meters are required to be paid from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Several business owners said the city could increase its revenue by extending the hours to cover the evening dinner crowd.
• Reducing the two-hour maximum time limit on Massachusetts Street parking meters. Some said reducing the time should make it more likely that parking spaces will become available to other shoppers more frequently, but others said they were concerned it would cause shoppers to rush their visit to downtown.
• Creating short-term parking spaces in the middle of each block. The spaces would allow people to park for up to 15 minutes in order to quickly visit a business.
• Encouraging employers to closely monitor where their employees park. Several merchants said too many downtown employees continue to use parking spaces on Massachusetts Street or the nearby two-hour lots.
“I think it should be part of the culture of your business,” said Dan Hughes, an owner of Sunflower Outdoor and Bike Shop. “It is in our employee manual that customers are entitled to the best parking spots.”
— Visit City reporter Chad Lawhorn's Town Talk blog.