Parking rates could be determined by demand

The price of a premium parking spot in downtown Lafayette soon might be determined by how many people want it.

Downtown Development Authority CEO Nathan Norris briefed the City-Parish Council on Tuesday on a proposal that calls for supply and demand to play a bigger role in the rates charged at the city’s two public parking garages and at downtown parking meters.

“The whole idea is to charge an amount of money for parking when demand is high to allow us to catch that excess revenue,” Norris said. “... If there is great demand, the price would go up.”

The plan, as outlined by Norris, would take the additional parking revenue and pump it back into downtown for lighting, better parking facilities and other improvements.

“That revenue needs to be reinvested in that area,” he said.

The rates for public parking in downtown Lafayette are comparable with public parking rates in cities of a similar size, but the rates are far lower than what’s being charged by private lots in downtown or for student parking around the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, said Mike Mitchell, who oversees parking operations for city-parish government.

Parking rates at night already are a little higher than normal in the parking garages, an attempt to capitalize on late-night crowds, but parking meters are not checked after 6 p.m. weeknights or any time during the weekends, times when parking is often at a premium.

The money coming from parking is just enough to cover personnel, maintenance and other expenses for city-parish government.

“We are essentially not generating revenue,” Norris said.

Mitchell said he believes downtown workers and businesses would be receptive to higher parking rates if the money brought improvements to parking facilities and the downtown area in general.

And Mitchell acknowledged that Lafayette’s old meters, which take only coins, are a bit behind the times.

“There is no denying that the technology we have in place and use right now is antiquated,” he said.

Norris said he envisions new meters equipped with credit card readers that feature sensors to gauge which parking areas are in demand at a particular time, as well as smartphone apps to help drivers find a good spot.

Some large metropolitan areas in the U.S. have implemented pricing for parking spots based on demand, an approach sometimes called dynamic pricing and demand-responsive pricing.

In San Francisco, for example, sensors are used to gauge how full metered parking spots are on a certain blocks.

Rates go down on empty blocks and up on packed blocks, with limits in place for how often and by how much rates change.

Norris said he hopes to begin implementing some elements of the plan by next year, assuming the city-parish administration and council are on board.

“No decision has been made today on what direction we’re heading,” said Dee Stanley, City-Parish chief administrative officer.

In other business, City-Parish Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux pushed for a battle to bring back mail processing services shifted from the Moss Street postal facility to Baton Rouge last year in a cost-cutting move by the U.S. Postal Service.

“I personally think we need to light a fire under this community and fight back,” Boudreaux said.

Joshua Montgomery, of the local chapter of the American Postal Workers Union, told council members that the change has lengthened delivery times for local mail sent to and from a Lafayette address from one day to at least three days because the mail must travel to Baton Rouge and back.

That delay can be even longer if there is a wreck on the bridge over the Atchafalaya Basin or — as was the case last month — ice shuts down the bridge.

The delay means such deliveries as checks, invitations for weddings and graduations and bill payments all take a littler longer, Montgomery said.

“Even though it seems like something simple, it means something,” he said.

Boudreaux asked City-Parish President Joey Durel’s administration to send a letter to each member of the state’s congressional delegation seeking help to restore the processing services to the Moss Street.

The councilman said he fears if the local community does not speak out, the facility might face further cuts.

Montgomery said last week that no workers were moved or laid off in last year’s consolidation, but that’s only because the employees in the roughly 20 affected positions retired.