A Schenectady City Council committee Monday evening agreed to a proposal to cap downtown parking space rates at $2 per hour and scrapped the idea of a special event parking fee.
As part of the plan, Mayor Gary McCarthy said that the first kiosks to go up will have the same hourly rates as the meters they are replacing. Motorists will pay for parking at the kiosks and display a receipt in their vehicle, rather than put coins in a meter.
It is only after examining the usage data that will come with the new kiosks that the rates could change, he said.
“Once you have that data, you can say, ‘We can lower the rates here because we’re not getting the utilization and oh, we should raise the rates here because people are sitting here all the time,’ ” McCarthy said after Monday’s meeting.
“We’ve got a general feel for what’s happening, but this will give us much more specific information to better manage the parking resources,” he added.
The council members at Monday’s committee meeting appeared mostly satisfied with the $2 cap proposal, which now goes before the full City Council at its meeting next Monday.
The cap means rates could be set anywhere from $0 to $2, depending on the location and time. The new plan also keeps parking free on weekends and after 6 p.m. on weekends, as it is currently.
The council has been considering what to do with the new kiosks for some time. A proposal to set a fee at last week’s meeting was tabled to allow time to gather more information.
The city is installing 19 kiosks to replace 147 parking meters downtown.
Council member Leesa Perazzo said she wanted to base a decision on solid information, not a guess.
She said the council was talking about two issues with the new kiosks: setting a rate to encourage parking turnover and then the possibility of setting a special event rate, a higher amount for high-demand times.
A special event rate could be too complicated, she said.
“Because parking is free after 6, how do you all of a sudden on a show night say, ‘No, no, no, you have to pay $10?’ ” Perazzo said. “I just think people would be confused by that.”
Previously, a cap of $1.50 per hour had been suggested. But city Director of Operations William Winkler explained there needs to be more room.
“You want some vacancies downtown for the merchants, and if they’re always full, you basically aren’t charging enough money for the spot,” Winkler told the committee members. “But you wouldn’t be able to do your testing if your cap is where it is today.”
Regarding the special event fee proposal, Winkler said he believed there would be difficulty administering such a fee. The difficulty would come in deciding what zones would have it and how to work with the merchants to ensure they get their business.
“You’d like to encourage people to come downtown,” Winkler said, “and a special event parking fee may do the opposite.”
Council President Margaret King suggested setting a cap of $2 or $3, and then scrapping the proposed special event fee. The committee settled on the $2 figure, finding more would be too much.
Perazzo said she was comfortable with that, and then the Council could revisit the cap once the new kiosks have had a time to work, maybe after six months.
Council member Carl Erikson questioned whether rates would solve the problem of turnover. Someone who wants to stay in a parking spot will pay, he said.
“I think if you want to have turnover, you have to look at duration, how long you can stay,” he said.
That could help the restaurants and keep office workers out of those spots, he added.