Bangor official: ‘Car shuffling’ by downtown workers behind paid parking proposal

Posted March 20, 2015, at 6:49 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — City officials continue to work on a proposal to charge for parking on certain downtown streets in a bid to create more spaces for patrons of downtown businesses as well as generate revenue for future parking infrastructure.

Officials said this week the primary goal of the plan is to stop the practice of “car shuffling” in which motorists park in a free spot for the allotted time and move to another space to avoid the $15 parking ticket.

“There are business people, business owners, even employees that are choosing to use on-street parking in front of businesses, use up the timed space and move to another space,” said City Councilor Gibran Graham, chairman of the Downtown Parking Advisory Committee.

“It’s netting zero new parking being available,” he said.

City staffers said they will likely bring a recommendation on the proposal back to the City Council’s Business and Economic Development Committee during its meeting April 7. The committee could recommend consideration by the full council at a later date.

City officials estimate the $1-per-hour fee charged for the 179 spaces would generate $155,000 in net revenue the first year. That would climb to $270,000 annually in the second year, they predicted.

That money could be used to invest in future parking infrastructure such as additional lots and parking decks, city officials said.

“We are looking at, in a few years, a potential shortage of available parking spaces in the complete inventory of parking downtown as we continue to grow,” Graham said.

“The last thing I think any of us want to happen is to have that growth all of a sudden bottleneck so that people cannot come downtown and be able to park,” he said.

According to Parke Clemons, manager for Republic Parking in Bangor, the downtown parking garage is down to about 20 available monthly spaces, the kind generally rented by businesses, though 60 additional spaces will open in the summer when roof parking opens.The garage’s total capacity is 545 monthly spaces, he said.

Start-up expenses for the proposal that includes the installation of 15 meter kiosks around the downtown would be nearly $115,000, according to city officials. They estimate it would take six or seven months for the revenue to cover the start-up expense.

Currently, the city loses an estimated $77,000 per year on its parking enforcement with an estimated annual operating cost of $212,000 — more than $208,000 of that for payroll and benefits for four part-time parking enforcement officers and a full-time parking ticket clerk. Budgeted revenue from tickets this year is $135,000.

According to the Bangor Police Department, revenue from parking tickets citywide has fallen over the past three years, from $160,238 in 2012 to $128,269 last year.

Asked about the revenue decline, Graham speculated that downtown car shufflers might be getting more vigilant since the implementation of electronic chalking devices that utilize computer tablets to identify cars parked over their time limit.

He also said there have been issues with the new devices that are meant to make parking enforcement more efficient such as problems with the cold that could be affecting the issuance of tickets.

Final recommendations are still incomplete, but city staffers are proposing 15 solar powers kiosks that would accept credit cards, coins and mobile payments such as smartphone payments.

City staffers weren’t sure yet if motorists would pay for parking by entering their license plate number, designating the space where they parked or returning to their car to place a receipt on the dashboard.

The proposal does not call for individual meters at each space because of the higher cost and the difficulties they cause with snow removal, city officials said.

The Bangor Police Department reported that it wrote 13,708 parking tickets citywide in 2012, 14,720 in 2013 and 10,626 last year. The 2012 and 2013 totals include parking warnings — about 3,000 per year — that do not generate revenue. Because of the new electronic chalking system, last year’s number does not include warnings.

Graham said they have presented the proposal with favorable response to the Downtown Parking Advisory Committee and the Downtown Bangor Partnership, which is made up of downtown stakeholders, residents, property owners and business owners.

However, not all in the downtown area support the proposal. Economic Development Officer Jason Bird said he has heard from two downtown businesses that would oppose the program.

Paul Bosse, owner of Bottle and Cans Downtown Market, predicted the proposed meters would affect his business because customers will not be willing to spend $1 to shop at his store when they can go to a store with free parking.

“I think it would be detrimental enough that I would probably close,” he said. “I can’t survive on foot traffic alone.”

“The municipality’s mission should not be to collect revenue,” he said. “The municipality’s mission should be to serve the community and the businesses that operate here.”

According to Bosse, more parking will be available downtown once the University of Maine closes its administrative offices and construction contractors downtown finish their work. He said the city should buy more downtown lots if they want to create more parking.

City officials said there would still be 748 free spaces in the area, and Graham said the parking committee is already trying to create a few short-term and loading spaces downtown that won’t be metered.

“Not every idea, as we all know, is going to have 100 percent approval from everybody,” he said, adding that if the program fails, the kiosks can be removed.

Graham estimated the annual debt service for a new parking deck would be $850,000.

“That’s a lot, and we don’t want to have to put that on the taxpayers, especially for people who are not actually parking downtown,” he said. “They shouldn’t have to pay for other people to park downtown.”

Follow Evan Belanger on Twitter at @evanbelanger.

 

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