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Contemporary Approaches to Parking Pricing: A Primer

7.0 Case Studies

Aspen, Colorado

The City of Aspen is a well-known resort community in Colorado and offers an informative example of a town that has implemented paid, escalating parking charges; integrated numerous payment technologies; funded commuter programs with parking revenue; and priced parking in RPP zones. The town's population is relatively small, but its scenic location, access to multiple ski resorts, and high-end shopping and dining make it a major tourist destination. Faced with a significant number of vehicle trips, limited roadway and parking capacity, and a desire to reduce the environmental impacts associated with vehicle travel, the city turned to numerous parking management strategies to reduce vehicle trips.

Aspen implemented paid parking in its downtown in 1995 to increase parking availability. City planners recommended an hourly rate of $1.00, time limits of 2 hours, and residential parking permits to protect adjacent neighborhoods. It was further recommended that the parking changes be implemented concurrently with a doubling of bus service, expansion of high occupancy vehicle lane miles, and the establishment of convenient, mid-block pay stations and in-car meters. This plan generated a significant amount of negative public reaction. In response, the city council, while approving the plan, agreed to put it to a vote via a binding public referendum, but only after paid parking and the plan's other elements had been in place for 3 months. When the vote occurred, 75 percent of voters supported continuation of the program.

The manner in which Aspen handles its RPP zones is unique. The zones were created to prevent overflow parking from the city's downtown core. Residents are provided with parking permits and visitors are allowed to park for free for up to 2 hours in an 8-hour period. Those two policies alone would result in occupancy rates below 85 percent. To assure that its on-street parking facilities are appropriately utilized, the city allows visitors wishing to park for more than 2 hours to purchase $7.00 day passes at a local grocery store, through a pay-by-phone service, or at any of the 15 pay stations located within the neighborhoods. Businesses within the RPP neighborhoods are allowed to purchase business vehicle permits. Each permit can be used in any vehicle and costs $1,000 per year. Lodges within RPP neighborhoods are eligible to purchase parking permits for their guests' use. Employees at lodges were using the permits for personal parking, however, forcing the city to implement a "two strikes" policy in which any lodge whose employees are caught twice abusing the program are banned from participating; this dramatically increased compliance.

The city regularly monitors parking availability in residential neighborhoods. If average occupancy in the neighborhoods exceeds 85 percent over a 1-year period, rates are increased.

As the downtown parking policy matured, it became apparent that many visitors wanted to park for more than 2 hours. This demand was met through the implementation of a progressive rate structure that extended parking limits to 4 hours. The cost of the first 2 hours remained unchanged and drivers were allowed to purchase an additional 2 hours of parking for a premium charge. By keeping the cost of the first 2 hours of parking unchanged the city was able to avoid significant negative response from the community. While some individuals expressed concern regarding the higher rates for the third and fourth hours, the ability of the program to offer drivers more options helped garner public support. Today, the cost of parking is $2.00 per hour for the first two hours, $3.00 for the third hour, and $4.00 for the fourth hour, with the average parking duration being 2.1 hours. Parking fees can be paid at pay stations or via pay-by-phone.

Aspen has used and integrated multiple parking payment and enforcement assets. In its early days the RPP program relied on chalking tires, and the city's staff of five enforcement officers was able to visit each parking space only two times per week. This system was time consuming and abused by people who would move their cars short distances to avoid time limits. The city responded to these issues by implementing license plate recognition technology. With LPR the city is able to check each of its 3,000 residential-zone parking spaces two to three times per day, even after reducing its enforcement staff by one. Aspen's LPR technology uses GPS and camera data to verify violations, which allows the city to identify cars that remain within a residential zone for more than 2 hours in an 8-hour period without either purchasing a day pass or holding an RPP. The enforcement vehicles access a database with information on all residential pass holders, which has made the need for physical passes unnecessary.

For a number of years within its downtown core, the city used in-car meters that were well received by residents; however, the city's vendor stopped supporting the technology, leaving the city scrambling for a new option. Not wanting to purchase another in-car meter system, the city decided to implement pay-by-phone. The pay-by-phone technology has allowed the city to implement parking promotions that allow people to park at reduced rates during different times of the year. The leftover in-car meters were used to support the city's commercial parking program. Companies with workers that must transport goods, such as plumbers and electricians, are eligible for in-car meters that allow them to park in the downtown area for $1.00 for the first hour and $0.50 for every subsequent hour. The in-car meters will soon be replaced by the pay-by-phone technology for commercial vehicles.

Washington, District of Columbia

Photo of a green pay-by-phone parking sign.
Photo credit: FHWA

Washington, DC is a parking innovator, and its leaders have shown a willingness to experiment with new ideas and programs. Partnerships between city leaders, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments have resulted in the implementation of multiple innovative parking strategies. This case study focuses on DC innovations and lessons learned in variable parking pricing, residential parking permits, license plate recognition technology, and paid disabled parking.

Performance Parking

The District of Columbia implemented a variable parking pricing program in 2008 in response to its Performance Parking Ordinance. The goal of the program is to stimulate on-street parking turnover and reduce occupancy rates to 85 percent in targeted neighborhoods. Two zones were identified as test areas for the program: the Ballpark District and Columbia Heights. Significant amounts of data were collected to help city officials set parking rates and policies. Data collection included a parking inventory and parking count for each zone and the creation of a database to track all collected data.

Within each neighborhood, every parking space was identified, labeled, and inventoried. LPR technology was used to conduct parking counts and estimate parking duration and turnover. Data from the inventory and count were analyzed to determine the zone-wide hourly parking profile, which detailed the parking occupancy rate per peak hour, the average duration of stay, and the extent of vehicles parking beyond legal time limits for each block. This information established the parameters of Washington, DC's initial variable parking pricing rates for its system, which uses pay stations that are able to vary rates from block to block, by time of day and day of week and for special events. (Nevers & Gray, 2009).

The Ballpark District, which is one of the pilot neighborhoods affected by the city's Performance Parking Ordinance, is home to a recently constructed baseball stadium and experiences extreme increases in parking demand during games, which makes it an ideal area to implement a variable parking pricing program. The parking profile, not surprisingly, indicated a variation in occupancy rates between game and non-game days. Initial variable rates resulted in game-day occupancy of 34 percent for blocks that had previously been at or above 85 percent occupancy. The occupancy on non-game days was reduced to 24 percent (District Department of Transportation, 2010). Occupancy data indicated that initial rates were set too high. District parking managers, over time, have adjusted rates on specific blocks to achieve more appropriate occupancy levels by block and within the neighborhood. Adjustments included changing some metered rates on game days and implementing an escalating pay rate for meters on non-game days.

Residential Parking Permits

Washington, DC has had an RPP system since the 1970s, which was introduced to ensure residents have access to street parking in their neighborhoods. With the implementation of the Performance Parking Ordinance some changes were made to the Ballpark neighborhood's RPP program. Prior to variable parking rates, visitors in the neighborhood could park for free for up to 2 hours and residents were sent one visitor-parking pass each year. Under the new program, visitors receive no free parking, and free visitor passes for residents are being abolished. In the future, visitors and residents will be able to purchase visitor passes online. Visitor license plate information will be provided when purchasing the passes and LPR technology will be used for enforcement.

Permit boundaries in the District are not determined by street block or neighborhood, but rather by the ward in which the resident lives. The entirety of Washington, DC is divided into eight wards, allowing residents to travel within their ward and use on-street parking for free. In addition, RPPs cost only $35 per year, a cost significantly below market rate and one that does not discourage residents from using on-street parking. Large zones with cheap residential parking leads to over saturation of cars in many neighborhoods, causing many complaints, but thus far no citywide policy solutions have been adopted.

License Plate Recognition Technology

On the technology front, Washington, DC has begun widespread use of LPR technology to help determine parking occupancy rates and enforcement. LRP information can be referenced against a database containing violation, payment, and other pertinent enforcement information. Moreover, LPR technology is able to determine parking duration and occupancy data (Lum et al., 2010). More than 250 cameras, at a cost of $20,000 each, scan license plates in real time throughout the District, which is better than one LPR per square mile, the highest concentration in the nation. The technology was first introduced in the District in 2004 and is now able to collect more than a million data inputs a month. Driven by privacy concerns, the District has wrestled with the length of time LPR data information may be stored; currently the data collected is stored for 3 years (Klein and White, 2011).

Disabled Parking

Washington, DC is attending to disabled parking in a new way, addressing access for disabled drivers and fraudulent all-day abuse of disabled placards. Desiring better compliance with the ADA standards, in 2012 the District implemented, a metered on-street parking program that, with time, will replace free parking at any street meter for disabled drivers. The program is designating two disabled metered spaces for each block in high volume areas. The goal of the program is to determine if paid disabled metered parking provides better access, encourages turnover of disabled parking spaces, and eliminates or reduces all-day fraudulent placard abuse by individuals who do not have a disability but use disabled placards to park.

Disabled meters are designed with a red dome to distinguish them from regular meters. At these meters, disabled persons displaying registered placards pay regular parking rates, but are allowed to park for longer time periods (District Department of Transportation, 2012). Shortly after implementation, the program was suspended for 90 days to address concerns raised by the disabled community and increase awareness of the program rules.

Seattle, Washington

Photo of a 2-hour parking meter.
Photo credit: City of Seattle

The City of Seattle adopted a performance-based parking program with variable rates for its many neighborhood business districts with paid on-street parking. The process began in late 2010 when the Seattle City Council adopted a new policy that focused on measurement and technical criteria for setting parking rates. The ordinance directed the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to collect on-street parking conditions data annually and determine whether changes should be made to parking rates and hours of operation to maintain specified availability targets.

The adopted ordinance sets rates between a minimum of $1.00 per hour and a maximum of $4.00 per hour. The SDOT director has the authority to set rates within these amounts by location, time of day, and other considerations. According to Seattle Municipal Code (11.16.121) rates are set based on technical analysis to maintain one or two open spaces on each block face throughout the day in order to:

  1. Maintain adequate turnover of on-street parking spaces and reduce incidents of meter feeding in commercial districts;
  2. Encourage an adequate amount of on-street parking availability for a variety of parking users, efficient use of off-street parking facilities, and enhanced use of transit and other transportation alternatives; and
  3. Reduce congestion in travel lanes caused by drivers seeking on-street parking.

Since late 2010, the city has conducted four comprehensive parking studies using either consultant resources or internal staff. The studies have documented on-street parking conditions manually, including occupancy by hour, duration, and presence of exempt vehicles (namely, disabled parking permits). When the program started, SDOT used the collected data to look at parking availability during the peak hour, and set prices accordingly. Various stakeholders felt that the city was setting prices based on data from too short a time period. In response, SDOT staff began to instead set prices based on data from the peak 3-hour period between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.

In 2011, SDOT made considerable changes to rates and hours of operation based on the results of a 2010 parking study and is making additional changes in 2012 based on results of a June 2011 study. The changes have varied depending on neighborhood conditions and include rate increases, rate decreases, maximum time limit increases, and evening hour extensions. In addition, "sub-areas" have been created with different rates or time limits. This recurring analysis and adjustment process has resulted in the creation of 23 parking districts, some of which have two sub-areas with different rates and maximum time limits. Prior to passage of the performance-based parking ordinance, Seattle had three pricing zones: downtown, center city, and outer areas.

Results from the 2011 rate adjustments found that in four districts where rates were increased, occupancy subsequently dropped. In seven districts where rates remained the same, occupancy sometimes went up and sometimes went down. In the eleven districts where rates were decreased, there was no significant change in occupancy. The city found that in areas where parking occupancy has traditionally been low, rate reductions did not attract new parkers. The city is now testing to see if increasing parking time limits from 2 to 4 hours in low-demand areas increases occupancy. Data from SDOT's most recent price and time limit adjustments will be available in the fall of 2012.

Since implementing performance-based parking, the city has worked to identify more efficient ways in which to collect on-street parking condition data. While the city is not currently pursuing street-sensor technology, SDOT has investigated several other ways to collect occupancy data. In one effort, SDOT is examining payment transaction data to estimate occupancy. Unfortunately, in several areas, paid occupancy is lower than actual occupancy and the difference varies by time of day and area. The primary reason for the difference is disabled permit parking; vehicles with State-issued disabled parking permits are allowed to park for free and for an unlimited period in paid parking neighborhoods.

A second data collection effort involved the use of Seattle Police Department resources. Parking enforcement officers were trained in the data collection process and used for two of the four completed studies; however, it was determined that the time they spent assisting with the parking study pulled them unreasonably from their primary enforcement task. In a third effort, SDOT tried to use its LPR enforcement equipment to determine occupancy levels, but was unsuccessful. The match between the locations of license plate reads and the paid-parking block faces was too imprecise for use in a parking study.

Throughout development and implementation of the performance-based parking process, SDOT has actively engaged community stakeholders. This has been accomplished through the creation of a Parking Sounding Board made up of a wide variety of community stakeholders who discuss and comment on changes in paid-parking rates and hours of operation. SDOT has also involved local neighborhood groups and chambers of commerce and is producing neighborhood-specific information for distribution. Going forward, SDOT is also working to identify new ways to communicate parking rate changes to the public.