November 18, 2005

Council Modifies Parking Laws

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The Ithaca Common Council recently announced that it will be changing parking policy laws effective Jan. 1, shortening the free parking in public garages downtown from two hours to one and potentially revising laws further after a six-month trial period.

“Two hours was just too long. People were going out of their way to retain free parking,” said Michael Taylor ’05 (D-4th Ward). “People would park for an hour and a half, or an hour and forty-five minutes, then leave the garage and return a short time later, getting a full workday’s worth of parking for free. This type of maneuvering defeated the purpose of charging for parking; the city was losing money.”

According to Taylor, the huge disparity between free parkers and paid parkers became apparent when the city organized tickets for each day into “free” and “paid” piles.

“The stack for free tickets was two and a half to three inches high, whereas the paid ticket stack was only a quarter to half an inch high,” he said.

The change stemmed from a long series of compromises between Ithaca Downtown Partnership (IDC), a non-profit business improvement district league aimed at improving Ithaca’s image, and the Common Council. According to the Ithaca Journal, the city’s 2006 budget proposal originally planned to eliminate all free parking in downtown garages and institute a flat $0.50 per hour rate. Downtown businesses protested, claiming that the elimination of free parking would have a negative effect on foot traffic in the Commons and other areas downtown. The compromise keeps free parking in the garages, encouraging those planning on short stays to continue using them.

Starting Jan. 1, parkers will be allowed one free hour in Seneca, Cayuga and Green Street garages, after which a dollar per hour charge will apply for a maximum of seven hours. Accompanying the price changes in parking garages have been adjustments of parking meter rates, which were raised last spring from $0.75 an hour to a peak of $1.25 over a course of four months. The price raise was intended to bring in more revenue for the city, as the $0.75 had not been adjusted for inflation in a number of years.

But the plan backfired when the peak of $1.25 was reached in April and revenue dropped a full $145,000 from the previous rate of $0.75. Demand for spaces had dropped so substantially that prices were lowered back down within the month, said Taylor.

“Prices eventually reached their current level at $1 an hour in a few months, and the Council has been much happier with the revenue received since then. The $1 rate is likely to stay constant for some time.”

The city hopes to additionally compensate for revenue lost last spring with the construction of new ramp equipment at the Seneca and Dryden garages. The old equipment has occasionally malfunctioned in its calculations of parking hours, and will be replaced in early 2006.

Carol Schmook, an employee of Handwork on State Street, said that while she had hoped the city would hold back on parking law changes until the effect of the new ramps could be seen, she is glad that free parking has been retained.

“This is much better than eliminating it completely,” she said. The laws still carry several exceptions: the Dryden garage will operate with a 12 hour maximum instead of 7 hours, and the Collegetown garage summer rate will remain at $0.75 an hour.

Archived article by Thomas Beckwith
Sun Contributor