Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Milwaukee to Hike Parking Meter Rates

City has yet to implement 2018 market-based plan to vary rates based on demand.

By - Jun 20th, 2020 01:17 pm
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New Park-o-Meters in Milwaukee. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

One of the city’s new “smart” meters in 2018. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The City of Milwaukee will raise prices at parking meters starting Tuesday, June 23rd. It’s the first step in a broader plan to implement a market-based pricing plan that would raise and lower rates based on demand across the 7,076 meters in the city.

The change only affects the new “smart” meters the city has been rolling out since 2018, an effort that is expected to take at least one more year to complete. The new meters were first installed in the East Town, Westown and Historic Third Ward neighborhoods.

The changes, authorized by the Common Council in 2018, will result in the three base rates increasing from $0.50, $1.00 and $1.50 per hour to $0.75, $1.25 and $2.00 per hour. At the time of approval, the Department of Public Works (DPW) estimated that change would net the city $1.9 million annually based on 2016 data. The city budgeted to receive $5.18 million from parking meter revenue in 2020.

But the council authorized more than an across-the-board rate increase, it also approved a block-by-block model that is designed to lower prices in some areas and raise them in others. It also approved allowing the department to use the meters to charge event-based pricing and extend the metered hours until midnight on an as-needed basis. A DPW report says the meters would only be extended until 9 p.m.

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 losing customers because of perceived difficulties in getting to them. Alderman Robert Bauman, who sponsored the city’s legislation, characterized the city’s plan as “making sure some people don’t get free lunches while others get gouged” when it was up for approval.

A report produced by DPW in 2018 details the 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

But the department is not implementing the dynamic model at this point.

The rate change comes a week after DPW reinstated metered parking enforcement for the first time since mid-March as mobility has increased and businesses have reopened. The department reports it has spent the past week with a grace period, issuing educational notices rather than citations for violating metered parking regulations. The department will begin issuing citations again on Tuesday. Many other parking regulations remain suspended.

As of 2018, a DPW report found that the city had the fifth-lowest meter rates out of 14 large Midwestern cities. The city last adjusted its rates in 2011.

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