Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Council Okays Market-Based Parking Fees

But Tony Zielinski adamantly opposes it, joined by four other council members.

By - Sep 25th, 2018 03:06 pm
New Park-o-Meters in Milwaukee. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

New Park-o-Meters in Milwaukee. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The price charged by Milwaukee’s parking meters will soon be set by demand instead of city bureaucrats.

The Common Council voted 9-5 today to approve the new approach. The move should net the revenue-constrained city at least $2 million annually according to estimates in a Department of Public Works report. It should also lead to cheaper parking in low-demand areas, and higher rates for in-demand spaces — and, most importantly, make it a little easier to find a parking space.

The first step is to increase the three hourly base rates from $0.50, $1.00 and $1.50 to $0.75, $1.25 and $2.00. That change alone will net the city $1.9 million annually based on 2016 data, says the report. With that change comes the expansion of metered time, with the department now able to have the meters in effect until 9:00 p.m. if demand warrants the change.

But those changes, along with allowing event-based pricing, will not be the biggest change. Parking prices will now be able to be changed on a block-by-block basis.

Using data from the newly-installed meters, the city will be empowered to begin adjusting prices.

What is the right price for parking? UCLA professor Donald Shoup has written the seminal book on the matter. In the “High Cost of Free Parking” Shoup explains that street parking should be ideally priced to create an 85 percent occupancy rate, otherwise, a tragedy of the commons occurs, with people circling the block endlessly creating congestion and businesses in the area losing customers.

A report produced by DPW details the new formula to be followed, with these dynamic rates.

  • When average occupancy is between 80‐100 percent, the hourly rate will be increased by $0.25
  • When average occupancy is between 60‐80 percent, the hourly rate will not be changed
  • When average occupancy is between 30‐60 percent, the hourly rate will be lowered by $0.25
  • When average occupancy is less than 30 percent, the hourly rate may be further reduced by $0.25  increments or lifted entirely

The new era in parking prices was vehemently opposed by Ald. Tony Zielinski. “I think this is just a Trojan horse to increase parking meter rates ” said the mayoral candidate. “I’m never going to be a supporter of a rate increase for parking meters,” said Ald. Khalif Rainey. Zielinski and Rainey were joined in opposition to the proposal by Milele A. Coggs, Russell W. Stamper, II and Mark Borkowski.

For more on the coming changes, see our coverage of the proposal from early September.

Parking and the Budget

The city collects approximately $5 million in meter revenue annually.

The 2018 budget includes the city transferring $17.1 million of parking-related revenues to the general fund, a practice that dates back decades and is now critical for the revenue-constrained city.

Revenue comes not just from meters and city-owned garages and lots, but towing ($4 million), permits ($4.6 million) and citations ($16 million). Operations and maintenance are budgeted at $27.2 million for 2018.

How the Parking Sausage Was Made

Despite the straightforward vote to approve the measure, the council spent over a half hour debating the proposal.

Alderman Robert Donovan, who supports the changes, attempted to earmark the increased revenue in perpetuity to pay for street repairs. That led to a debate over the quality of his amendment, with members debating the legality of “perpetuity,” what is or isn’t a street repair, and revenue versus income. The matter finally resolved itself when Ald. Robert Bauman asked a series of questions of the council president.

“So this has no legal significance on how the revenue is utilized?” asked Bauman. “So this language means nothing?” Council president Ashanti Hamilton quickly responded “all yeses to your questions.”
Donovan fired back: “I never thought the council voting for something and showing their intent for something was meaningless… If I’m the only one that votes for it, it sure as hell wouldn’t be the first time.” His simple amendment then failed on a 4 to 10 vote, a minor victory for the alderman who often stands alone.

Following more debate on the measure, Ald. Michael Murphy made a move to send it back to committee. Ald. Nik Kovac spoke at length opposing the move, saying the changes had already gone through two committee cycles and questions about the fairness of rates had been answered.

“I just want to be clear, this is something that has been in the works for years,” said Kovac. “If you want parking to be available you have to charge for it,” he added.

Stamper, after admitting he didn’t watch either of the two hearings, requested the proposal be tabled and moved into the city budget. Bauman, who co-sponsored the measure with Kovac, responded: “this is not a revenue-raising measure. Technically it has nothing to do with the budget.” he said that given the speculative nature of the revenue estimates, the council wouldn’t be able to allocate DPW’s estimated $2 million revenue increase in 2019.

Bauman, in advocating for the council to just vote on the proposal and move on, summed up the proposal as “making sure some people don’t get free lunches while others get gouged.” He said concerns over equity could be better expressed through adjustments to the overnight parking fee, which residents with vehicles and no off-street parking are forced to pay.

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