The cost to park in downtown Asheville is likely to increase, as city officials look at ways to extend the life of existing decks and possibly make them bigger.
Harry Brown, parking services manager for the city of Asheville, outlined the parking rate increases he plans to recommend to Asheville City Council during last week’s meeting of the Asheville Downtown Commission. The increased rates will generate cash for capital projects, Brown said, namely engineering studies of existing decks to see if their lifespan’s can be extended, and to see if existing decks can be expanded.
The proposal, Brown said, is to raise rates for on-street parking via parking meters a quarter, from $1.25 an hour to $1.50, and increase monthly parking rates in some decks/lots by $10.
The city recently completed an engineering study of the 40-year-old Civic Center parking garage in hopes of extending its life another 30 years, Brown said. The deck is old, “but it serves us well,” he said.
Brown said he wants to do similar studies of the Rankin Avenue and Wall Street decks. “We’ll do structural analysis and vertical expansion analysis to see if we can expand them by going up,” he said.
“They’re paid-for facilities and we need to maintain them,” he added.
But there’s more work to be done. Brown said he wants to start replacing the city’s aging parking meters. The city is already testing new solar-powered, Internet-connected meters on Battery Park Avenue. One big advantage of the new meters: the ability to program meters in specific areas for variable rates. The city is also planning to replace the elevators in the Civic Center garage, as well as in the Rankin and Wall Street decks.
Asheville Downtown Commission Chairman Adrian Vassallo asked Brown how much the city’s parking services fund transfers to the city transit fund (the city’s bus system). Brown said it was approximately $616,000 a year.
“Wouldn’t that cover what you need?” Vassallo asked? Brown answered by saying that fund transfer wasn’t his decision.
Vassallo also asked about the possibility of hiring more parking enforcement officers, and about increasing the cost of parking tickets.
On hiring more enforcement officers, Brown said the city currently employs four, although one person has been out of work with a long-term health issue. Brown said the city could extend the hours that motorists must pay for on-street parking, but there’s no easy way to do that with existing meters. Motorists pay through 6 p.m. to park on city streets. Extending those hours would also require Asheville City Council action.
On the issue of parking fines, Brown said there’s been some internal discussion, but nothing definitive has come of it. (An overtime parking fine is $10; a fine for parking in a loading zone is also $10.)
Vassallo said increasing fines would increase revenue, and he specifically pointed to the need to increase the policing of illegal parking in loading zones. Vassallo said the city collected $118,000 in overtime parking fines in 2016. The city collected $4,600 in fines from people illegally parking in loading zones.
“I had a downtown worker comment to me that it’s cheaper to park in a loading zone, because it’s $10 a day to park in a deck,” and the loading zone fine is also $10.
Brown responded on the loading zone issue: “I’ve been here 12 years and we’re still trying to crack that nut.” On the issue of increasing fines in general, Brown said it’s not automatic that collections will increase. Higher fines may have the impact of encouraging people to be more diligent in feeding meters.
Downtown Commission member Ruth Summers made a recommendation for the parking rate changes: set the cost to park in a deck for 24 hours at $120 a month. She was noting that the rate for the Biltmore Avenue deck is different that the other downtown decks with its system of three different rates to try and accommodate both long-term parkers and motorists visiting for shorter periods.
“You are penalizing people parking in Biltmore Avenue differently than people in other garages,” Summers said. “By having it uniform, you might end up with more transient spaces. I really don’t think the rates we are charging are comparable to what other cities charge for monthly parking,” she added.
The commission voted unanimously to recommend hiring additional parking enforcement officers, to look at additional fines and look at uniform rates for all city parking garages.