In the past week, the city began phasing in its new parking rate structure, doubling the cost for street parking downtown from $1 to $2 per hour. It costs more to park in city-owned lots and garages, too (see box), and parking in neighborhood business districts has jumped from 25 cents to 50 cents per hour.
The rate hike came after a city-commissioned study by Walker Parking Consultants last year showed Cincinnati had some of the lowest parking rates in the Midwest. Now, after the increase, they are among the highest. Supporters say the jump was needed to help pay for garage maintenance and system upgrades, but detractors say the hike is unnecessarily high and will keep suburbanites out of the city.
City Council approved the increase for the garages and lots in a 7-2 vote in late June; they began taking effect Aug. 2. Councilmen Chris Monzel and Charlie Winburn were opposed. Councilwoman Leslie Ghiz joined them in the 6-3 vote to approve the meter increases.
|Facility||Monthly/Daily|| Current Rate
|| New Rate
| 7th & Broadway
| Fountain Square South
| Town Center
| 7th Street
| 5th and Race
||$15.00|| $16.00 max
The current pricing system was barely breaking even, says Councilman Chris Bortz, a rate hike supporter.
A few of the lots were losing money, particularly the Town Center, Old Seventh Street and Garfield garages.
"There is very little money to make necessary improvements or to maintain facilities," Bortz says.
The new revenue won't go into the city's struggling general fund; instead, it will be allocated for parking system operations.
According to city estimates, the increase will generate an additional $609,749 annually from the garages and surface lots, and an additional $800,000 from the meters. Opponents question the size of the increase, and allege officials are planning to use it to help subsidize a planned streetcar system.
Among the improvements planned are installing solar-operated pay kiosks citywide that will take a credit or debit card form of payment. There are already similar ones along Court Street and a few other places.
Cincinnati isn't alone in raising rates: Columbus is in the process of increasing some rates but also is lowering others. And meters there are being enforced until 10 p.m., while Cincinnati only enforces its meters until 5 p.m.
"The rates have been artificially very low for a very long time," Bortz says. "It was a decision of the city leadership to keep parking rates downtown very low to try to encourage parking in the downtown area."
Critics, however, believe now that the rates are raised, it will discourage people from coming to the Central Business District.
Although Ghiz reluctantly voted to increase the garage rates because she thought it was necessary to cover basic maintenance costs, she worries about the impact. It's hard enough to find parking now without having to carry $2 in change for each hour, she says.
"It’s a complete deterrent for people outside the city,” Ghiz says. “Even for people who live in the city, it's a hassle. Primarily in the business district where most people are coming to do business, or have lunch or meetings.”
Bortz disagrees, arguing that it will never be as inexpensive to park in the denser urban core as it is in the outlying suburbs.
"Downtown is not dependent on people driving down from the suburbs for lunch," Bortz says. "It might make a few people decide not to come downtown. But most people coming downtown are coming downtown for a reason … We're not in competition with the Kenwood Town Centre; it's not like that at all."
Also, the increases are envisioned as a way to spark more turnover for the on-street spaces and encourage people to park in garages if they are staying for longer stints.
"If you're going to be downtown all day, or more than an hour or two, you should park in the garage,” Bortz says. “And if you're just stopping quickly for a meeting or for lunch, you'll pay for convenience of parking on the street. You can go some places downtown and never find a place to park because people who work downtown are staying in the street all day."
Ghiz doesn't buy that argument, saying many garages are full by early morning by people who have monthly passes. She believes the same people will continue to feed meters all day.
Some critics have complained that the city's long-term lease of its garage underneath Fountain Square to the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) a few years ago — and subsequent loss of that sizable revenue stream — contributed to the shortfall.
Not true, Bortz insists. He also says the increase is not intended to encourage more use of the planned streetcar system, though he acknowledges that could be a side-effect.
Regardless, this probably isn't the end of the parking debate, says John Schneider, a local transportation expert who supports the streetcar project and led an effort to restructure parking rates in the 1990s. Schneider, who doesn't own a car but does rent them occasionally, agrees with the rate increase but believes the city might have overdone it with the across-the-board increase.
"A $2 standard rate might not work in every neighborhood,” Schneider says. “They're probably going to have to experiment Parking is a pretty precise science.
“In terms of general broad policy they are on the right track, but I don't think they have hit just where they need to be,” he adds. “If the pricing is too aggressive, we'll know pretty soon if we see a lot of empty spots.”