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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Supply and demand: Downtown Spokane parking rates to be set based on occupancy

May 17, 2021 Updated Tue., May 18, 2021 at 12:56 p.m.

City of Spokane Parking Enforcement Specialist II L. Morse issues an overtime citation to a vehicle at a parking meter on Main Avenue at Post Street on April 23 in downtown Spokane.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
City of Spokane Parking Enforcement Specialist II L. Morse issues an overtime citation to a vehicle at a parking meter on Main Avenue at Post Street on April 23 in downtown Spokane. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW) Buy this photo

Depending on the street, paying to park in downtown Spokane could soon be more expensive.

Aiming to strike the right balance of supply and demand, the Spokane City Council voted unanimously Monday to approve a new flexible parking rate structure for downtown.

The fines imposed on those who violate parking laws are set to increase substantially: The city will charge between 50 cents and $3 per hour, depending on the demand for that spot.

Motorists won’t have to worry about surge pricing on an hourly or day-by-day basis. Instead, the demand used to set prices will only be assessed twice a year, with rates increasing by no more than 50 cents at a time.

While some streets will surely see a bump in pricing, some others – likely on the outskirts of downtown – could get cheaper.

The goal of the effort is to hit an occupancy rate of at least 85% in downtown parking spaces, ensuring downtown stays busy but parking is feasible.

Using license plate recognition devices, occupancy will be tracked by parking enforcement officers as they make their regular rounds. That data will be built into maps that can show detail occupancy down to the hour of the day.

City Council President Breean Beggs noted Monday that the city administration’s original proposal would have set the highest parking rate at $5 an hour from the existing maximum of $1.20 an hour. He had expressed such an extreme price would effectively exclude lower-income people from parking downtown.

Ultimately, the council and administration negotiated that figure down to a $3-an-hour cap.

“This should be easier to both enforce and administer and it goes along with other changes that we’re making including new kiosk infrastructure and license plate reader vehicles so we can enforce the overstay,” Beggs said.

The new rates are an effort to align the city with the recommendations of a 2019 parking study that found the city charges below-market value for parking.

The parking study, published in 2019, found that there are about 37,000 parking spaces in downtown Spokane, but more than 85% are off-street. The average off-street space costs $2.65 an hour, compared to $1.19 an hour for the city-owned on-street parking.

Fines for parking violations are also set to increase. The study found that Spokane’s fines are not only well below comparable cities, like Portland and Seattle, but effectively incentivize cheating. The cost of parking all day in the city’s two-hour zones is barely less than the cost of a parking ticket one would incur for taking a gamble and paying nothing at all.

Under the new plan, the cost of an expired meter will increase from $15 to $30.

An expired meter will net a scofflaw a $44 fine in Seattle and Portland, compared to a $25 fine levied by Tacoma and Vancouver, Washington, for the same infraction.

The city’s target is to make the new regulations effective on June 28.

Editor’s note: This story was changed on May 18, 2021 to correct the maximum parking meter rate in downtown Spokane previous to the increase approved Monday by the Spokane City Council. The maximum is increasing from $1.20 to $3.

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