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Committee backs parking rate hikes

Evanston’s Parking Committee voted Wednesday to recommend that the City Council increase downtown parking meter rates by 50 percent and add $5 to the monthly rate in the city’s garages.

The committee postponed action on suggestions from Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jonathan Perman that the city adopt a more aggressive demand-based rate system to try to drive up usage of the garages.

Perman said the city is facing as much as a $12 million deficit in its parking funds by 2011 and has high vacancy rates in the garages.

He said the private garage at the Chase Bank building uses flexible pricing — often offering discounts to customers late in the morning rush period to help fill the garage with all-day parkers.

In a sense the rate increase the committee approved amounts to a form of demand-based pricing.

Officials say downtown parking meters are at 100 percent capacity during the day, while the garages are often only half full.

Raising the parking meter rates from $.50 to $.75 per hour will bring the meters closer to the garage rate, which averages $1 an hour.

Customers who park for less than an hour in the garage can park for free, but parking for one to two hours costs $2.

Perman said that since essentially all the garage operating costs are fixed, any additional revenue derived from an increase in parkers would help cover budget deficits.

In an interview today, he suggested that the city could experiment with offering free parking in the garage on Saturdays, when the garages are often only 20 percent full, or let people park all day on Saturdays for a buck.

He also noted that many low-wage employees of retail shops now feed meters all day, tying up on-street spaces that could be used by shoppers, because saving $4 a day — the current cost difference between parking for eight hours at meters and in the garage — makes a financial difference to them.

He suggested that a discount rate for parking on upper floors of the garage could persuade more downtown workers to stop punching the meters.

City Finance Director Matt Grady told the Parking Committee that the city may be able to substantially reduce the deficit problem by shifting left-over money from an expiring downtown tax increment finance district into the parking fund.

But Assistant City Manager Judy Aiello cautioned that a number of projects still need to be funded within that TIF district, making it difficult to estimate how big the transfer to the parking fund will be.

The increase in the monthly parking rate would be structured as an increase in the tax the city imposes on all monthly parking services — including those operated by private garages and Northwestern University, Perman said.

That’s being done to keep the basic garage fee from rising above $60 — the threshhold at which the city would also have to collect a parking tax imposed by Cook County. The monthly garage rate, with the tax included, would rise from $80 to $85.

The City Council is expected to vote on the rate increase plan next month and, if approved, the increases would go into effect next March.

The increases are projected to raise about $725,000 in new revenue each year.

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