The constant conversation about parking in downtown Boise and the challenge of finding a space will circle the block a few more times in the coming weeks, and if city planners have their way, parking rates and fines will be higher, and metered parking will no longer be free during evenings or on Saturdays.
Beginning in December, the Boise City Council will be asked to consider some dramatic changes to downtown parking regulations. The public will get to weigh in on the proposal sometime in mid-December, and new rates could go into effect Feb. 1, 2018.
The on-street meter hike comes in the wake of increases approved by the Capital City Development Corporation at eight downtown parking garages, which also go into effect in February. The first hour will remain free, but hourly parking rates would go from $2.50 to $3 per hour. For metered parking, the first 20 minutes will remain free, but in Zone 1 (those meters closest to the downtown Boise core), the rate for the first hour would increase from $1.50 to $2, and the second hour rate would increase from $2.50 to $3. In Zone 2 (a little further from the core), the first hour would increase from $1 to $1.25, and the second hour would increase from $1.25 to $2. Meters in Zone 3 (still further away from the core) would see no change.
"We never considered taking away that first 20 minutes that's free," said Craig Croner, administrative services manager and the man who oversees Boise's parking systems. "It's very unique compared to other cities, and I don't see us getting rid of those free 20 minutes anytime soon."
However, city officials said something had to be done to "churn" more of the downtown parking spaces. Simply put, too many people were parking their cars all day or all night in front of parking meters on weekend evenings or Saturdays, distressing merchants who say they need those spaces to accommodate their customers.
"Look at these numbers," said Lana Graybeal, communications manager with the departments of finance and administration at City Hall.
"We surveyed the downtown parking meters and discovered that a number of the meters were at or above 90 percent capacity after 6 p.m. on weekday evenings and between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturdays," said Graybeal.
The survey revealed that on stretches of Sixth Street (between Idaho and Bannock streets), Idaho Street (between Eighth and Ninth streets) and Eighth Street (between Broad and Front streets) capacity surpassed 90 percent between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturdays. On stretches of Grove Street (between Fifth and Sixth streets), Main Street (between 10th and 11th streets) and Eighth Street (between River and Fulton streets) capacity surpassed 95 percent between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturdays.
If the higher on-street metered parking rates go into effect in February, there will be an increased need for enforcement, but Croner said his department won't need to add any more staff.
"This should be cost-neutral," said Croner. "With some shifting of schedules, we'll be able to staff the enforcement that would be necessary for evenings and Saturdays."
New parking fines are also being proposed. Currently, the fine for parking in front of an expired on-street meter is $15. City staff are proposing that the fine be hiked to $20. Additionally, the $18 fine for parking too long in a time zone (signs indicating that parking is limited to one- or two hours) would be hiked to $25. City staff are also pushing for new late fees. Today, if someone doesn't pay a parking fine, they're assessed a one-time late fee of $15. The new proposal calls for an additional $15 be added every six months if a fine remains unpaid.
"We've got something like 50,000 unpaid parking tickets right now," Croner said. "But we were only charging that one-time late fee. The additional fees should get people's attention."
The real attention, city officials say, needs to be paid to the motivation of revising on-street parking charges.
"It's all about getting people to look at alternatives. Number one, customers need to be able to find a parking space. This ought to free some of those spaces," said city spokesman Mike Journee. "Number two, three, four and five, we've got to look at more alternatives to driving: biking, walking, mass transit and park-and-ride. They've all got to be part of the conversation."