Austin wants to extend meter hours for downtown parking spaces

The Austin Transportation Department wants to make drivers pay for parking past 6 p.m. on Wednesdays downtown.

The Austin Transportation Department wants to make drivers pay for parking past 6 p.m. on Wednesdays downtown.

The Austin Transportation Department wants to extend the meter hours for city-owned, on-street downtown parking spaces beyond 6 p.m. each Wednesday.

Currently, paid street parking downtown runs from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 8 a.m-11:59 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 11 a.m.-11:59 p.m. Saturday. On-street parking is free on Sundays.

The proposed ordinance change would extend the paid parking time on Wednesdays from 6 p.m. to 11:59 p.m.

In a memo issued to Austin City Council last week, ATD Director Robert Spillar said his department conducted a downtown parking survey in 2015 and found metered parking was at 97 percent occupancy during the daytime hours, and the spots were more than 86 percent occupied Wednesday night in many areas.

"These findings exceed parking management best practices, which indicate that parking should remain at or below 85 percent of capacity and/or that one or two spaces should remain open per block face," Spillar said in the memo.

ATD spokesperson Marissa Monroy said the extended parking hours could increase revenue by an estimated $33,000 per month; however, she emphasized the proposed change was not about the revenue but about increasing turnover to help downtown businesses that rely on those on-street parking spaces.

With the support of downtown stakeholders, including the Downtown Austin Alliance—an entity made up of community members and downtown business owners, City Council in May increased the parking rates downtown from $1 per hour to $1.20 per hour.

Following the rate increase, ATD introduced the Affordable Parking Program in which eligible service and entertainment industry employees and downtown business owners can purchase a nighttime parking pass at the city-owned Waller Creek Center garage, which is located at 10th Street and I-35, for $35 per month. That is significantly less than routinely paying for on-street parking, which could cost as much as $86 per month under existing hours or $115 per month under the proposed extended hours.

When the city increased the rate from $1 to $1.20, downtown bars and restaurants also saw alcohol sales rise, Monroy said, proving that the higher cost is not hurting businesses—it is helping them.

Spillar said the added revenue would go toward improving congestion and safety for drivers in Austin.

DAA also conducted a survey last year and found that at most times, on-street parking is underpriced.

Dewitt “De” Peart, president of the DAA, told Community Impact Newspaper in November the current downtown parking system is confusing. Between the private and public parking garages, the city-managed parking and the state-managed parking, there is no uniform parking system, and people are not sure what and how they will be expected to pay and how long they can stay at any given parking spot, he said.

The study found there are as many as 30,000 parking spots available during peak periods, meaning people are not finding the open spots, according to Peart.

The recommendations from the consulting firm that executed the study will be presented to DAA in the spring, and Peart said technology solutions are at the top of his list.

On Friday, Peart said the city's recommendation to extend Wednesday parking meter hours was aligned with the findings from the study.

"We also want to see downtown’s entire parking supply—public and private, on-street and off-street—managed well, which can improve downtown congestion and provide convenience for downtown visitors and customers," he said.

The Wednesday night change in parking meter hours would go into effect sometime in 2017, should City Council approve the measure.

The next step in the process of approval is to notify downtown stakeholders of the proposed change and solicit feedback before presenting an ordinance to City Council, a process that will occur before this summer, Monroy said.