February 1, 2011 in City

Spokane council curbs plan to raise parking fines

Summer pilot project will test credit card meters downtown
By The Spokesman-Review
 

A proposed 67 percent boost in parking fines downtown was spiked Monday night by the Spokane City Council.

Parking tickets, however, likely will return to the council later this year along with other parking fees and policies as leaders examine results of a new parking study.

City Council President Joe Shogan proposed raising the cost of a parking ticket from $15 to $25 for motorists parked at expired meters. But council members balked, suggesting any decision on fines should wait until the parking report is completed in the coming months. Shogan agreed, and the council voted unanimously to remove the proposal from consideration Monday.

“It doesn’t make sense to address it in isolation,” said Councilman Jon Snyder. “It just seems premature to do this without a little bit more information.”

Preliminary data from the parking study was presented to the council in a meeting earlier in the day.

Among the recommendations:

• Install systems that allow parkers to use credit cards – thus moving away from coin-only meters.

• Standardize parking fees to two rates: $1.20 an hour at meters that allow for two hours or less, and 40 cents an hour at long-term meters. Spokane currently has six different rates. The recommendation would be an increase at most meters.

• Form a parking committee to determine how parking profits should be spent.

The $46,000 parking study was paid for by the city and the Downtown Spokane Partnership.

Money fed into Spokane parking meters is devoted mostly to pay the city’s debt from the River Park Square settlement. The downtown mall is owned by the Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review. Money from parking tickets – about $1.25 million a year – is used to help balance the city budget.

This summer the city will install new parking meters or kiosks from different parking meter companies along four blocks of downtown, said city planner Louis Meuler. Each system will allow credit card payments and will be used for six to nine months to help officials recommend a new permanent system.

“It’s kind of like having a rotary dial phone and all of a sudden having an iPhone in our hand,” Meuler said.

The city last experimented with parking kiosks in 2005, when the city took 18 meters on Main Avenue near River Park Square out of commission in favor of parking stations that printed receipts that parkers posted in car windows. Officials said the kiosks proved to be unpopular and dug into city profits because of credit card fees.

Rick Williams, the Portland-based consultant leading the study, noted that the city only tried one system in 2005. He added that technology has improved in the six years since the city’s first experiment. Even considering credit card fees, cities that have removed coin-only meters have increased revenue by 25 percent or more, in part because some new systems don’t allow motorists to use time left on meters by previous parkers, he said.

Williams said fines and fees should be set based on goals such as how often businesses need parking spaces to turn over to new customers and the cost of the city’s parking and enforcement system. He said “best practices” among cities with meters divert profits from meters and tickets to specific projects to benefit the areas where the parking is located.

“You just don’t raise a rate to raise a rate,” Williams said.


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