Council postpones downtown parking rate increases

Enforcement hours also decreased; free parking in effect until March 25

By: Jeremy Selweski | Woodward Talk | Published March 18, 2013

The city is relaunching its controversial new downtown parking system later this month, but at least for the immediate future, all parking rates will return to their previous levels.

On March 11, the Ferndale City Council voted unanimously to restore the city’s old parking rates through at least Dec. 31 to give officials time to collect more parking data and determine if a new pricing system is needed. Beginning March 25, all downtown parking spaces — including on-street spots — will go back to a rate of 50 cents per hour, while long-term parking passes will go back to $20 per month, or $240 per year.

Free parking has been in effect in downtown Ferndale since Feb. 21 while city officials have attempted to work out numerous problems with the new Ferndale Park+ system. It will continue until March 25, when the system will be restarted with 14 additional digital pay stations in tow.

City Manager April Lynch is confident that having more pay stations in place will alleviate complaints from downtown customers about waiting in long lines to pay for parking.

“We feel very comfortable that this is going to help with the line situation being as excessive as it was,” she told the City Council at its March 11 meeting. “It was never intended to be 10 or 12 people deep. I’m not saying that during a peak time in a peak location on a Saturday night there won’t be two or three people in line, but more than likely, those types of situations will be removed because of the number of machines that have been placed there.”

Due to the higher-than-expected demand for parking, the council voted Feb. 25 to purchase the extra pay stations, which will be charged to the city’s auto parking fund. According to Lynch, the 14 machines will cost about $170,000 for the city to have delivered and installed. In addition, by extending its free parking offer to the public, Ferndale is costing itself around $12,000 per week in parking revenue.

Still, Lynch believes that these are necessary sacrifices that will prove worthwhile in the long run.

“We will be going from 20 machines to 34 machines, which should make a significant difference,” she said. “In some parking lots, we have tripled or quadrupled the number of machines, and that should really address a lot of those issues.”

The Ferndale Park+ system, which originally featured higher overall parking rates and a pricing method based on user demand, was first launched in early February. It replaced more than 900 coin meters with 20 solar-powered digital pay stations spread across the downtown area that allowed users to pay via cash, credit card or the city’s Parkmobile cellphone option. However, it was not warmly received by downtown business owners, visitors, employees or residents, who complained about waiting in long lines out in the cold to pay for parking, insufficient lighting at some of the pay stations, price increases for both daily parking rates and long-term parking passes, and an inability to use Parkmobile.

Most of these problems have already been rectified, and the rest should be fixed soon. On March 11, in addition to rolling back the parking rates, the council agreed to decrease the city’s parking enforcement hours in the morning, starting at 10 a.m. instead of 9 a.m. And while they supported a request to keep evening enforcement in effect until 11 p.m., enforcement will only last until 8 p.m. through May 1, as officials are still working to improve the lighting and signage at some of the pay stations.

According to Lynch, the city has been collaborating with DTE Energy to provide better lighting in many downtown lots and will be raising the “Pay Here” signs, located near each pay station, higher off the ground so that they are more visible. The new lighting will also be on a timer so that when parking enforcement hours are over, the lights will turn off automatically, letting users know that they no longer have to pay for parking.

Members of council were fully supportive of the proposed changes, but the long-term goal behind the decision to invest in Ferndale Park+ — to expand parking capacity in downtown Ferndale — loomed large.

“After talking to business owners and residents, I think we need to take a step back and re-evaluate the (parking) revenues, what we’re going to use the revenues for, what the community values, and what we want to invest in,” said Councilwoman Melanie Piana. “I know that a lot of people want a parking deck, but I don’t think we’re clear on how to best get there yet, and we need some more time to do that. I also think this will give us a better opportunity to better explain why … if we do increase these rates again in December, what the purpose of that is for. And that will give us better community buy-in for this, which is my real interest here.”

Mayor Dave Coulter confirmed that the city would most likely be increasing its parking rates again by the end of the year, utilizing the data collected from the digital pay stations to determine a fair pricing system.

“I don’t want to give anyone the false impression that I believe we can keep (parking) rates at 50 cents per hour forever and still expand parking, build a parking deck, or whatever we ultimately decide to do. But we need to do something, because we have a parking problem in Ferndale, and we can’t add capacity at 50 cents per hour. At the same time, we need to have a conversation … about what that expanded capacity looks like and be more specific about it.”

Lynch thanked all downtown users for giving city officials time to address the litany of concerns about the new parking system.

“I can’t tell you how much we appreciate the patience and understanding of our businesses, our residents and our visitors,” she said. “The business owners have been great, and very gracious, about offering their ideas and thoughts (about parking). We continue to encourage people to do that and understand that their feedback is so valuable to us. The one good thing to come out of this is the fact that we’ve had some creative ideas that might not have come out if things had gone as smoothly as we wanted — which we still would have preferred.”