Imagine sitting at your favorite Seattle coffee shop and getting an alert on your cell phone, telling you that the time you paid for on a nearby parking meter was about to expire. With just a few clicks of the keypad you could extend your time and avoid a ticket.
Pay-by-cell is just one of the changes the City of Seattle is proposing to parking for next year's budget. Other changes include extending time limits in certain areas and subdividing certain high-traffic neighborhoods like the U-District and Capitol Hill and changing rates to reflect demand.
Parking has been a vexing issue for city officials. They want to charge enough so as not to be hemorrhaging money, but not so much that businesses howl that the fees are chasing customers away.
In January officials unveiled a new parking plan under which certain areas would see rates go up to $4 an hour; the current maximum is $2.50 downtown. The $4 rate was to be charged in Pioneer Square, the downtown commercial core and First Hill. The goal of the new parking plan was to strike a balance to try to free up spaces in high-traffic areas. But following complaints from business interests, the Seattle Department of Transportation said new rates in Pioneer Square would be $3.50 an hour. The $4 hourly rates would still be charged on First Hill and the Downtown commercial business district.
As part of the 2012 budget proposal, McGinn suggested further changes to how parking is run in the city:
Pay-by-cell: The City would implement this program next year so people could pay through cellphones and mobile devices (Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County, MD., are among the locales that have experimented with this technology). If an appropriate vendor is found, the system could be operational by next summer, McGinn's office says. So would the City make money? Maybe not. Budget Director Beth Goldberg said the amount made through fines could decrease if it was easier for people to figure out when they'd gone over the time limit. In 2012, the City expects to bring in $36.7 million from all traffic fines.
Changes to geographic boundaries: Places like the U-District, Ballard, Belltown, Pioneer Square and Capitol Hill could be tweaked to specify high-demand and low-demand areas in each neighborhood. What that means is it could cost you the top rate to park, for example, on The Ave in the U-District, but less several blocks away.
Time-limit changes: The amount of time a person could park would be extended in low-traffic areas. People would be able to park for up to four hours these areas where occupancy levels are below what the City had hoped for.
Three-hour time limits after 5 p.m: Certain neighborhoods where paid parking was extended to 8 p.m. would see a three-hour paid option after 5 p.m. This would allow people more flexibility, the City says.