Prepare to pay more
Newark to double parking lot rate during busiest times
Parking in downtown Newark on weekdays is about to get more expensive.
City officials plan to implement “peak” and “off-peak” rates for city-run parking lots on Main Street. The cost to park will double to $2 per hour Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The current $1-per-hour rate will remain on weekends, nights and during the summer.
The change will be implemented Monday or Oct. 23, depending on how fast the parking software can be reprogrammed, Deputy City Manager Andrew Haines said.
Haines described the issue as one of supply and demand, noting that the lots – particularly Lot 1 behind the Main Street Galleria – are often busiest during the day. By raising the rates, the city aims to incentivize visitors to park in university parking garages or at parking meters on the outskirts of downtown, thus freeing up spaces for others.
The peak rates were first suggested by some city council members and members of the public who noted that many university students park in Lot 1 to go to class because it’s close to campus and cheaper than the university garages.
The peak rate puts the city lots more on par with the university’s parking rate, which starts at $2 per hour but varies depending on how long the vehicle is parked before maxing out at $10 per day.
Haines acknowledged the higher charge may discourage some people from coming downtown, but said that will free up spaces for people willing to pay more.
“Other people may embrace it because they’ll have more success finding a space,” Haines said. “We accept we may not be able to satisfy all customers.”
This month’s increase will be the second change in the parking rates this year, but the first increase in the hourly rate since 1999. In February, the city eliminated the half-hour increment, meaning that the charge is rounded up to the nearest dollar.
That change, which was expected to bring in an additional $100,000 each year, did not have an effect on drivers’ behavior, Haines said. He declined to speculate how much additional money the peak rate will bring in.
Haines noted the peak rate implementation is a pilot program and its impact will be evaluated early next year. The success or failure will be judged from a financial standpoint and on whether it changes drivers’ habits, he added.
The city first studied increasing the parking rates last year when then-Councilman Todd Ruckle suggested an across-the-board doubling of the fee. At the time, Planning Director Maureen Feeney Roser, now retired, said the proposal should be “thoroughly vetted” to avoid having unintended consequences for the economic viability of downtown businesses. She warned that doubling the rate will price parking in Newark higher than in nearby communities.
Haines said the city ultimately decided on peak and off-peak rates as a compromise. He noted that the higher rate doesn’t begin until 9 a.m., giving visitors a chance to stop downtown for coffee or breakfast on the way to work while paying the lower rate. The lower rate returns in time for the dinner crowd.
Changes proposed for meters, validations
Officials also propose to increase the cost of parking at meters in the core downtown area – Main Street west of Chapel Street – from $1.25 an hour (12 minutes per quarter) to $1.50 an hour (10 minutes per quarter.)
Meanwhile, lesser-used meters east of Chapel Street would be reduced to $1 an hour.
In addition, the time limit on the meters east of Tyre Avenue would be increased from two to eight hours. Haines said that, coupled with the cheaper rate, could encourage people parking for several hours, including employees of downtown businesses, to park there and walk to their destination.
By law, changes to the cost of parking at a meter requires a vote from city council, which will consider the issue in November. The parking meter increase would be permanent and would not vary based on time of day or season.
Haines also proposed eliminating the city’s subsidies for parking validations. Businesses would still have the option to validate their customers’ parking but would shoulder the full cost, rather than half as the current policy spells out.
The city loses $60,000 to $80,000 each year due to validation subsidies, Haines said.
Differing opinions from business owners
The parking fee changes were unveiled Sept. 27 at a sparsely attended afternoon meeting of the planning commission’s parking subcommittee. They were mentioned again at the Oct. 2 city council budget workshop.
The plan got a stamp of approval from the committee, which includes two business owners: Lee Mikles, co-owner of Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen, and Chris Locke, general counsel for Lang Development Group and the owner of Formal Affairs.
Mikles – who admittedly is not affected much by the increase because his restaurant has its own private parking lot – said he thinks the changes could help other businesses.
“The problem people have is the perception there’s no parking, not that its too expensive,” he said, adding that he hopes the changes encourage students to find alternatives to parking in the city lots. “That will help businesses by making more parking available for visiting guests.”
However, Caffé Gelato owner Ryan German disagreed.
“It’s not the solution we need. The solution we need is more parking,” said German, an outspoken proponent of a downtown parking garage.
He said he understands the supply and demand argument, but it’s not necessarily applicable for downtown parking.
“From a small business perspective, it’s the opposite – we want there to be more parking, not less demand for parking,” he said, adding that he would like there to be enough parking that the city could make it free between noon and 2 p.m. to encourage people to come downtown for lunch.
He said he doesn’t expect the change to affect his customers too much because the restaurant validates parking and will continue to do so.
“For us, it will raise our bill,” German said, noting validations currently cost him between $1,000 and $2,000 each month.
A motorist pays for parking in Lot 4 on Tuesday afternoon. Later this month, parking costs in city-run lots will double on weekdays.