AUSTIN (KXAN) — The city’s population boom is causing an inevitable headache for many downtown visitors: a parking crunch.
City officials have worked to increase parking throughout the city—doubling the number of paid parking spots in the past five years. Perhaps the most obvious effort downtown is the addition of numerous new street-side meter stations. Those stations increase parking turnover, which boosts space availability and aids nearby businesses, officials said.
“There is definitely correlation to being able to find parking fairly easily and how the businesses do,” said Steve Grassfield, parking enterprise manager with the City of Austin.
That boost for businesses, however, can come at a price for visitors, if a visit results in a parking ticket. Despite the increase in paid parking downtown, a parking expert said parking availability may never keep pace with Austin’s ballooning population.
According to a KXAN analysis of city records, Austin has seen a 10 percent increase in the number of parking fines in the first half of 2015, when compared to the same time period in 2013. Throughout Austin, parking enforcement officers wrote more than 100,000 tickets in the first half of this year, resulting in more than $1 million in fines that the city funnels back into transportation funding.
Most of those tickets originate in downtown, but a KXAN analysis has found a few parking-ticket hotspots sit outside the city’s center.
Like many people who pay for parking, Kelly Singh walked back from the Rainey Street area to her car parked at the Mexican American Cultural Center (MACC).
Maybe Singh would find a white envelope tucked beneath her windshield wiper … or maybe not.
“Thank God, yay!” Singh said when she arrived at her sedan. “We didn’t get a ticket.”
Singh took a chance in one of the highest ticketed spots in Austin. The MACC Lot is the fifth most ticketed location in the city, an analysis of city data shows. The most common time to receive a ticket in that parking lot: 10 p.m.
But nighttime is not always the most common time to receive a parking citation.
Outside downtown, the 2500 block of Longview Street, which is in the West Campus area, is the fourth most ticketed spot in Austin in the first half of this year. The most common hour to receive a ticket on that two-block street: 8 a.m.
Throughout Austin, the most common time to get a ticket is 10 p.m. on a Thursday.
Austin officials say simple math explains the uptick in parking tickets.
“In the past five years, Austin has gone from 3,800 paid parking spaces to 7,200 paid parking spaces,” a city official told KXAN. “Because more spaces are available, it stands to reason that there’s going to be more tickets written.”
A comparison between expenses and revenues shows the city profits on its parking enterprise. In fiscal year 2013-14, the city took in more than $9 million from meters, while expenses in the same timeframe ran about $3.64 million.
Those figures do not include fines, like hundreds levied against car owners parked illegally on West 4th Street downtown, which ranks as the most ticketed Austin location through the first half of 2015. Parking enforcement officers wrote more than 1,200 tickets at the 500 block of West 4th Street alone, in the first half of this year.
If people get fines in those high-ticket areas, they may not have seen a commercial or customer service zone sign, they overstayed their time limit or they may not have paid for parking at all, Grassfield explained.
KXAN found that the highest-ticketed stretch of West 4th Street has parking meters posted next to a separate sign stating only district court personal may park on the street Mon-Fri., 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Map of the Most Ticketed Areas
It’s all in an effort, Grassfield said, to keep cars flowing through downtown, increase business and maximize the limited number of street spaces available to visitors and workers.
Glenn Gadbois, executive director of Movability Austin, said despite the city’s efforts to increase parking it will be an uphill battle to keep up with demand.
“There will never be good enough and plenty parking downtown ever again,” Gadbois said.
The rub: More people are working in downtown than ever before, office workers are being squeezed into tighter spaces and construction is prevalent, Gadbois said.
“There is just not enough parking downtown, if everyone continues to drive downtown alone and expects to find parking,” he said. The city would like to maximize the economic value of each square foot of downtown ground, and “warehousing cars” has a low economic value. That means parking lots downtown will become scarcer, as the city looks to turn land into areas for work, recreation and residence, he added.
All those traffic fines the city has levied, the proceeds go directly back into programs to improve transportation, including downtown parking, Grassfield said.
A variety of programs and ordinance changes are helping improve parking by opening up spaces. A change to the valet ordinance has upped the number of valet companies operating. In downtown, a valet can occupy about three street-side parking spaces, which they can use to park 60-100 cars offsite in garages, Grassfield said.
Reverse angle parking has also dramatically increase parking compared to parallel parking, on streets like South Congress Avenue. Gadbois said parking meters, and fines, are part of changing how people park downtown.
There is “lots of competition for the available spaces, and some of those people will misuse those and get tickets for it,” Gadbois said. Downtown street spaces are generally intended for short-term parking—roughly one, two or three hours. Longer-term parking should be done in parking garages. If people are downtown looking for a space, they can use use a mobile app called Park Me, he added.
You can see a map of Austin metered parking zones here.