Parking

A person enters the Third Street Ramp to park Monday, Nov. 18, 2019. (Andrew Link / alink@postbulletin.com)

Mike Barry says the 34 percent increase for parking downtown is hard to swallow.

“They believe that’s reasonable,” he said of the city’s five-year rate plan.

People holding parking contracts in the city’s six public parking ramps recently received notice that their monthly bills will increase next year.

For people holding non-commercial parking permits, like Barry, the cost will jump from $125 a month to $168.

That’s following a $20 increase last year.

“This is on the heels of several years of annual increases that were also above the inflation rate,” he said.

Barry doesn’t live downtown, but he and his wife, Mary, contracted for space in the Third Street ramp approximately eight years ago because she works at Mayo Clinic and doesn’t expect to have employee parking privileges in the near future. At the time, he recalls, he paid $90 a month.

Last year, the Rochester City Council approved a schedule of annual contract price increases that will march that rate up to $288 a month by 2023.

The increased contract parking rates, as well as other parking-related fees, were approved to cover anticipated costs of maintaining public parking, as well as providing resources for additional parking options.

“Because municipal parking operates as an enterprise fund, the parking revenues must pay for parking operations, improvements and expansion,” said Nick Lemmer, the marketing and outreach coordinator for Rochester Public Transit and Parking.

He noted the costs were determined after rate study conducted by Walker Consultants under a $35,000 contract. The consultants worked with the city’s finance department and Lanier Parking, which holds the contract to operate the city-owned ramps.

“Financial policy dictates that the enterprise fund must remain solvent,” Lemmer added. “The rate increases adopted by the council were necessary to keep the fund balanced.”

Lemmer said the rate increases also will bring the monthly contract price in Rochester more in line with rates charged in other municipalities.

“Best practices say that monthly parkers get about a 20 percent discount from the equivalent daily rate,” he said, noting monthly parkers in Rochester have been receiving a 50 percent to 60 percent discount in recent years and the 2020 rates reflect a 45 percent discount on the equivalent daily rate.

The rate increases also come at a time when city officials, as well as Destination Medical Center Economic Development Agency representatives, are trying to encourage more commuters to use other transportation options -- such as bike, bus or on foot -- to get to work downtown.

Mayo Clinic recently announced it will increase commuter bus subsidies for employees in 2020 to help ease parking concerns, and it is working on plans for additional park-and-ride options.

The city has also been discussing adding to its public park-and-ride options.

Barry said his wife hasn’t considered the transit options, because they have a contract at the city ramp. He said he’s unsure whether the increased rates will cause them to make a change.

Following the last increase, the number of parking contracts is down slightly.

At the end of October in 2018, the city had contracts with 1,498 parkers. A year later, it had 1,465.

Barry said it appears to counter to the goal of paying for the facility, noting more contract parkers could keep ramps full.

“The 34 percent is ridiculous, and I think their rationale doesn’t make any sense,” he said, noting his payments have likely paid half of the $25,000, which has been estimated as the cost of building a downtown parking space.

Estimates for the cost of creating parking spaces have varied in recent years, but city officials note the numbers don’t cover maintenance and enforcement costs.

"The $25,000 (estimate per space) is not a realistic number to use," Rochester Public Works Director Chris Petree said, noting the city's latest pushed the number beyond $35,000 per space. 

Still, Barry said the increased monthly fees seem to be out of proportion for the city. 

"Just because we can charge that amount, should we?" he said. 

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