As you may have read, the hourly rate for parking in downtown Indianapolis and Broad Ripple might change after the city finalizes new management contracts. The current rate – a whopping 75-cent hourly rate – may be raised to $1.00 or $1.50 per hour. Some ballyhoo has ensued in talk-back comments or maybe even in your Facebook stream. But this rate increase is only a small piece of the city’s larger plan to cut costs in the management of city-owned parking and to create one central bidding system for vendors who are interested in doing that management.
Why a new process now? Mayor Ballard hopes both to continue the current revenue stream (around $5 million each year) and to secure additional funds to support infrastructure repairs in downtown and Broad Ripple. Though meters only account for 3,500 of the almost 24,000 parking spots currently owned by the city, this is an interesting opportunity for Indianapolis to look at efforts and research focused on improving meter parking for residents, communities, and revenues. The new operators will, presumably, be upgrading the meter systems; people are talking about seductive things like credit card payments and kiosks. This process also offers Ballard a chance to avoid some problematic choices that other community leaders have made.
So, in the spirit of learning from others, let’s take a quick look around at what others are doing:
Rate manipulation: Cities with a lot of congestion have used rate hikes and variable rates to open up more spaces. San Francisco has a grant to do this using real data gleaned from wireless parking sensors to drive price changes. London has done this, decades ago, with less technology. It seems to work, even if it does make some people huffy about the price of parking. Why does it work? It frees up spots more readily, decreasing cruise time of drivers looking for spots. Increasing turnover has long been a perceived benefit of parking meters, especially for business owners who want easy parking access for customers. NB: These variable rates can be a great deal higher than what has been discussed in Indianapolis – up to $6.00 an hour in San Francisco at the peak-est of hours.
Cool technology and special spaces: Hoboken, New Jersey has both multi-space meters and special parking spots reserved for vehicles used in car-sharing or flexcar systems (wherein people can rent or have a membership to use a nearby car, typically via reservations – a practice I don’t expect to see widespread in Indy anytime soon). Baltimore’s multi-space meters are solar-powered. Hoboken isn’t alone in these practices, but they’re excited about it. Many other cities have converted spots previously used for cars to bike parking spaces, like Portland. Another potential positive of new technology:Â using old parking meter structures to construct more sidewalk bike parking or replacing them with attractive bike racks.
Long-term lease (AKA lessons learned): Whatever Indianapolis does (fingers crossed on the cool bike racks), I hope that we steer clear of every mistake made by Chicago’s Mayor Daley in his long-term lease of his city’s parking meters. (For a much longer analysis of this topic, check out the Chicago Reader and/or read the Urbanophile‘s great posts on privatization)
- Mistake one: not being public about it – Mayor Daley developed the plan in private and announced it publicly before the City Council saw the actual plan; then, the Council approved it without, apparently, understanding the whole deal. So far, Indianapolis’ RFP process has been about as transparent as we can expect. I hope that as we move toward selection and approval, the public and the City-County Council have time to review and advise on any plans that develop.
- Mistake two: giving the lessee too much long-term control – The Chicago Plan gave Chicago Parking Meters LLC (a Morgan Stanley conglomerate) the right to raise rates and extend hours on parking meters, though the City Council’s Alderman were told that they would retain those responsibilities initally. Thankfully, the Ballard administration has assured everyone throughout this process that Indianapolis’ City-County Council will be the deciding body on rates, hours and the like.
- Mistake two-the bonus: giving the lessee too much control limits the ability of the community to develop responsive transit systems. You know all that exciting stuff listed above and elsewhere on this blog like parking spots for car-sharing and bikes, widening sidewalks, traffic-slowing street design? Making those ideas real often depends on eliminating metered parking or shifting it. And a lot of people in Chicago are disturbed that for 75 years, those efforts might be hampered or obstructed by the lessee. So, any contract that Indianapolis signs should leave the city with plenty of flexibility, even in the short term, to change our streets and our parking systems in positive ways.
- Mistake three: undervaluing the value of the parking meters – Avoiding a long-term lease should take care of this sort of situation, but this points to the relatively common approach of many municipal leaders in which they overvalue quick income and undervalue longterm earning potential of public assets. Until we see the actual proposals, we won’t know what this looks like. But, since Indianapolis is looking at management contracts and not this sort of quasi-privatization scheme, I’m hopeful that we can avoid this sort of mistake.
We’ll be covering these plans as they move forward, as well as some of the ideas that have come from Broad Ripple business owners. My hope is that this process will help us to think about what we want out of downtown and Broad Ripple parking, as well as the kind of leadership we expect on this issue.