Parking rate increases and free bus rides are the crux of the city’s plan to balance out downtown parking in the coming year as the city grapples with a parking crunch.
That plan isn’t likely to win over downtown businesses that have been calling for more accessibility to parking for their employees not involving a bus ride from a distant parking lot.
The Grand Rapids Parking Commission on Thursday approved a package of parking management changes for fiscal year 2017, which include: improvements to mobility options, including expanding the DASH schedule and transit options; expanding the parking supply; and on- and off-street parking rate changes.
Those changes will now be included in the omnibus fee resolution and FY17 budget going before the Grand Rapids City Commission May 24 for approval. If passed, the changes would go into effect Sept. 1.
To increase mobility options, two DASH routes would run from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Friday, and with a frequency of seven to eight minutes between buses.
Currently, there are four DASH routes operating downtown. Under the new plan, elements of the DASH Hill and DASH South routes will be consolidated into the DASH West route.
The plan also calls for a pilot program that would make Silver Line service free for those using the service north of Wealthy Street throughout the day.
Rate changes to on-street and off-street parking also would be implemented, with some monthly rates for the most coveted off-street parking facilities nearly doubling. According to information provided at the parking commission meeting, the new parking rates will yield $18.3 million in FY 2017 revenues.
The plan also includes working with private developers on increasing the parking supply downtown through partnerships.
Following Parking Commission approval of the parking management changes, Sam Cummings, managing partner at CWD Real Estate Investment, said he is concerned the commissioners are not engaging downtown employers to understand their needs as they are making decisions.
“I know my customers feel a little disenfranchised,” he said. “We are on board with everything that is being talked about here. I don’t want to be viewed as a dissenter — that’s not it at all. I want to make sure we are getting all the data.”
Cummings said while some people will have no problem parking and taking a bus to their place of employment, others need access to their car throughout the day.
“That works for some people,” he said. “But we need to be honest with ourselves about what percentage of the workforce that is. Engaging with the employers and understanding their demographics is incredibly important as we craft these programs. You want to make sure you aren’t making too many assumptions.”
Cummings said accessibility has always been an important aspect of selling downtown to employers.
“I just know, from 25 years of experience, one of the things I’ve been able to sell is that accessibility — that you can enjoy everything downtown has but still live in East Grand Rapids, Hudsonville, Jenison or Holland, etc.”
He also said the reality is there aren’t parking passes available for many of the downtown lots where employers need them.
“Call parking services and see if you can get a monthly pass in any of these ramps. The answer is no,” he said.
Josh Naramore, Mobile GR & Parking manager, agrees parking passes in many lots aren’t available and there isn’t enough parking downtown currently where people want it to be, but he said the proposed changes are the first step in addressing those issues.
“It’s actually going to work better, and the reason why is it is going to give a lot more choice based on what people need,” he said. “What we are trying to do with these changes is to make it responsive to the different needs of different people.
“Pricing and some of the mobility strategies we are implementing makes it more of an attractive option to people who could do that. By doing that, it provides more supply to employers, and people who would like to have the convenience can pay for the convenience.”
Naramore said there would be an effort in the coming months to engage with downtown employers to learn about their needs.
“In terms of looking at where supply needs to be expanded, that’s an element of this, but it was not part of the original study,” he said. “That’s why it’s the first thing I am trying to do right now is develop that. We are actively looking for multiple projects currently — surface and structure parking — and trying to add as much supply as we can in the near term.”
He said he has to balance parking expansion decisions with fiscal responsibility, noting the city has $47.5 million of outstanding debt in the parking system.
Naramore said as Sept. 1 approaches, the city will work closely with employers and their employees on how to utilize the city’s DASH system. The expectation is, as people become more comfortable with the system, there will be less resistance to utilizing it.