One-fourth of downtown Oklahoma City is composed of parking garages. But these private lots often sit empty, with residents more likely to pay for on-street parking. To incentivize the public to use the vacant lots, the City Council is considering raising on-street parking meter prices by 50 cents. Journal Record editor Russell Ray discusses the city's parking challenges and how stakeholders are reacting to the possible price hike.
Drew Hutchinson: This is the Business Intelligence Report, a weekly conversation about business news in Oklahoma. I’m Drew Hutchinson. Joining me is Russell Ray, editor of The Journal Record. Recently, parking business consultant Brett Wood told the Oklahoma City Council that on any given afternoon, about 186 acres’ worth of private parking sits vacant in the city’s downtown business district. He said that private parking facilities have been overbuilt and that it might be time to incentivize people to use them.
Russell Ray: Well that’s right. The recommendation to the City Council is to raise the cost of on-street parking. Right now, we have a glut of parking spaces in parking garages and parking lots. About a quarter of downtown is made up of parking lots and parking decks. The study done by the consulting company looked at 30,000 parking spaces in private facilities. Of those spaces, the study found that only 36 percent are being used during peak parking times. In contrast, the spaces on the side of the street were used at a much higher rate -- around 52 percent during those times.
Hutchinson: Russell, could you talk about what Brett Wood proposes to incentivize use of those private lots you were talking about?
Ray: So the idea is to encourage more drivers to use those private spaces by making the cost of on-street parking more expensive. The consultant recommended raising the price by 50 cents an hour. He also recommended raising the price in some areas based on demand. This would apply to parking meters around certain event centers at certain times.
Hutchinson: An obvious potential issue that Wood kind of noted was that if the city decides to do this, it should monitor the situation to make sure the effort is working out as planned. He did note that in Seattle, hiking prices for on-street parking did prompt parking lot owners to charge more. Brett Wood also said that a public-private partnership agreement could also be an option to boost occupancy for that off-street parking.
Ray: Yes, that’s right. The owners of these private parking facilities could partner with other businesses or the city to share their spaces for both public and private parking. In Sacramento, for example, these agreements allow the city to operate a private parking garage and then share the revenue with the private owner.
Hutchinson: So if prices do end up being hiked for on-street parking, Russell, do you have any insight into how stakeholders might react to a measure like this?
Ray: Surprisingly, the feedback we heard from some business owners has been welcoming. By raising the cost of on-street parking, it could lead to more turnover in those prime parking spaces on the street. Business owners like that idea because it could lead to more traffic in their businesses. And of course, there will be some drivers who are willing to pay the higher cost because they prefer the convenience of parking on the street. And there will be those who will take their business elsewhere, which is the whole intent of this strategy.
Hutchinson: I do want to briefly touch on the fact that what’s happening with parking in the Oklahoma City downtown business district isn’t necessarily the case in the rest of the city. In places like Midtown just north of the business district, parking demand is exceeding the supply. However, in these cases, parking consultant Brett Wood said cities should find other ways to deal with the problem, aside from building small, private lots.
Ray: Yes, that’s a good point. Building small, private lots is expensive and may not pay off. In those parts of the city where much of the parking is free, Wood recommended investments in paid parking with time limits. And so this would increase turnover and improve access to those businesses.
Hutchinson: Russell, thank you for your time.
Ray: My pleasure Drew, thank you.
Hutchinson: Russell Ray is editor of The Journal Record. KGOU and The Journal Record collaborate each week on the Business Intelligence Report. You can follow us both on social media. We're on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter: @journalrecord and @KGOUnews. And this conversation, along with previous episodes of the Business Intelligence Report, are available on our website, KGOU.org. For KGOU and the Business Intelligence Report, I'm Drew Hutchinson.
The Business Intelligence Report is a collaborative news project between KGOU and The Journal Record.
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