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Garage rate deals in works

Evanston’s Transportation and Parking Committee Wednesday voted to recommend that the City Council offer a deal to people who want to use a monthly pass to park in any of the city’s three downtown garages.

Evanston’s Transportation and Parking Committee Wednesday voted to recommend that the City Council offer a deal to people who want to use a monthly pass to park in any of the city’s three downtown garages.

The proposal, for a six month pilot project, would set a $115 fee for a special permit that would allow users to park in any garage. That compares to the current $85 rate for a permit to park in just one garage.

Committee members said they believe the idea would appeal to real estate agents and others who frequently have business in different parts of the downtown area.

Parking Manager Rickey Voss said other cities that provide the option commonly charge a 50 to 100 percent premium for it.

But committee member Dave Reynolds noted that, because Evanston’s garages are relatively close together, people can "hoof it" to their destination and may not be willing to pay such a big premium.

Voss said the city already has the transponder technology in place to run the system, so "it doesn’t cost us anything" to offer the option.

The city would have to share any added revenue with Cook County, though, which imposes a $10 tax on parking garage fees at that level.

The committee also backed a long-debated proposal to offer a discounted rate of $70 a month for parking on the roof of the Sherman Plaza garage.

Voss said "nobody uses that roof-top at all" now. The discount is designed to attract downtown retail workers, many of whom now punch on-street meters all day, reducing the number of street spaces available for shoppers.

The committee again postponed action on plans to raise the base rate for garage parking permits from $85 to $90.

The increase was recommended in a rate plan the City Council adopted in 2005, but Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jonathan Perman has argued that economic conditions are far different now than they were then, probably making a rate hike ill-advised.

He says the city should focus more on trying to optimize usage of, and revenue from, its entire parking system, using variable pricing techniques.

An employee from the firm that manages the city’s garages said there has been a decline in both monthly permit sales and hourly parking usage in the garages over the past year, but the said he would have to do more research to provide detailed information about that.

The city now charges 75-cents an hour for on-street meter parking downtown, and has near 100 percent daytime usage of the meters and complaints that people can’t find an open metered space. By contrast it charges $1 an hour in the garages and has many vacant spaces there.

But Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, who operates a pet supply store in the 1000 block of Davis Street, said raising meter rates on her block would drive customers away.

Several stores on the block now sell large items and offer to carry them out to meter spaces for customers. "We don’t have the time to send an employee all the way to the garage," she said.

She said some customers have told her that they would no longer come into downtown Evanston if they had to pay $1 for meter parking.

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