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Free-hour parking plan called a success

Citizen Staff Writer



More than 4,000 drivers used the new one-hour, free-parking option at three downtown garages in January and two of them generated more revenue than a year ago.

The new policy of free first-hour parking and higher daily rates is working just as ParkWise coordinator Chris Leighton anticipated.

“When it rings up ‘no charge,’ it brings up a big smile with people,” Leighton said.

One pleased free-parking enthusiast is Arvin Fike, a semiretired paralegal who hardly ever spends more than an hour on each of his five or six trips downtown monthly.

“It’s just a darn good convenience to be able to slide in and scoot out and get out of town again,” Fike said.

While the first hour is free at the three garages, the maximum rate increased Jan. 1 from $5 to $8 per day with new $6 and $7 charges per day added for the sixth and seventh hours.

How the three garages fared:

• At the Pennington Street Garage, 110 E. Pennington St., 841 people parked for free, yet January revenue increased to $16,055 from $14,593 collected in January 2008.

• The garage at the Main Library, 101 N. Stone Ave., had 3,037 freebies but revenue went up to $20,502 compared with January 2008, when parking fees totaled $19,279.

• Revenue remained unchanged from January 2008 revenues at the City/State Garage, 498 W. Congress St., though 441 parked free. Revenues for January and last January were about $2,800.

“The library is terribly popular for free first-hour parking,” Leighton said.

Fike said he used to double-up library chores with his paralegal work to get validated parking at the library garage. Now he doesn’t have to go through the validation process.

The free parking-higher daily rates dichotomy is designed to encourage drivers to limit use of parking meters for brief visits of less than a half-hour, Leighton said.

“We’re getting a lot more people off the street,” Leighton said. “Tucsonans don’t use (the garage option). I watch Café Poca Cosa patrons circle the block looking for a place to park when there are 700 spaces upstairs.”

Parking meters make up less than 7 percent of downtown parking, but Leighton said drivers are focused on trying to find one of 1,100 metered spots rather than using the combined 16,000 spaces at city, county and private garages, and surface parking.

“We hope they learn to use the garages and get more comfortable with them,” Leighton said. “There’s better uses for land than surface parking.”

The free-parking element was proposed by Glenn Lyons, chief executive of the Downtown Partnership, as he and Leighton last year discussed the partnership taking over management of the city’s ParkWise division. That idea was delayed as the Parkwise Commission recommended that Leighton seek requests for proposals to allow other entities a chance to vie for the management contract.

Leighton said the city Procurement Department determined there was no need to go through the requests for proposals process and he can move ahead and reach an agreement with the downtown partnership.

Lyons said, “It became apparent we were the only organization that could provide that type of service.”

Leighton expects to take an agreement to the City Council in March and have the partnership staff move into the ParkWise offices at the Pennington Street Garage in April. ParkWise would pay the partnership $50,000 a year.

Free-hour parking plan called a success

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