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Norwalk: Out-of-towners won’t be fazed by parking fee hikes

Norwalk Parking Authority  003-20130322-001
A Norwalk Parking Authority worker patrols Washington Street recently.

NORWALK, Conn. – South Norwalk parking fees aren’t keeping people out, city officials say.

In fact, according to Norwalk Administrative Services Manager Kathryn Hebert, who is assigned to the Norwalk Parking Authority, the numbers of people parking in Norwalk are “through the roof.” And it’s a good thing, as the out-of-towners are paying for things Norwalk taxpayers used to support, Board of Estimate and Taxation Chairman Fred Wilms said.

The proposed 2013-2014 $5.4 million NPA budget, which includes parking fee hikes at its lots and garages, was approved by the BET Monday night by officials who expressed satisfaction of the progress made in recent years.

While parking fines are also going up, Hebert and Mayor Richard Moccia said there are fewer tickets being issued. “I had a concern that too much of your income was based on tickets and we worked closely to cut it down,” Moccia told Hebert during the meeting.

Parking violations account for 12 percent of the proposed budget, according to a memo written by Hebert to the BET (attached below). They were 15 percent of the 2012-13 budget and 19 percent of 2011-12, she said.

Hebert agreed that parking tickets are negative but said they’re a necessary part of the balancing act. The authority has other sources of revenue: The proposed budget includes a total of $109,800 from advertising, leases for the Yankee Doodle Garage and the South Norwalk railroad station, concessions at the railroad station and ATM machines.

Wilms wanted to know what percentage of parkers come from out of town.

“If I had to guess, probably around 65 percent, maybe 70 percent,” Hebert replied.

“Those people don’t pay taxes here,” she said. “But they use our services.”

Wilms said that was good, because before the authority was established in 2002, Norwalk taxpayers footed the entire bill.

After the discussion, Hebert cast aspersions on the idea that raising fees would keep people out of SoNo.

“That’s not true at all,” she said. “We have a lot of choices in our lives now. There’s a lot of communities that have good restaurants. There’s a lot of communities that have a lot of other things,” and the price of gas keeps people from straying too far. “If a restaurant or a business has a really good product, people are going to go.”

The private parking lot on Washington Street, next to The Ginger Man, is “packed,” she said.

“It’s substantially higher rates than we charge,” she said. “They charge $5 for two hours. After two hours it’s $10 for six hours. It’s packed. Their permits are $100 a month. Packed. Never a problem.”

There are other indicators that parking fees are not a deterrent, she said.

“Demand at the Maritime Garage is through the roof,” she said. “The pay-by-cell use is thought the roof. Our permit sales are very high, comparably. So people are coming. People who stay all day, that demand is going up.”

Pressed for a definition of “through the roof,” Hebert said parking at the Maritime garage is 26 percent higher than last year, and park all day is up 24 percent.

Hebert said that much of the $15.4 million budget goes to maintain facilities and for debt service.

Expenses for the 2013-14 budget include an increase of 13.22 percent in debt service, or $134,027, the memo said.

Debt for what?

“We did major improvements to Haviland Deck,” she said. “Had we not done that – it was recommended that we close it right away because it was very dangerous. Yankee Doodle Garage had major structural problems. We did structural improvement to the South Norwalk railroad station. We did structural improvement to the Maritime Garage. Even though the Maritime Garage was opened in 2005 – those facilities get thousands of cars. They get abused. Even though you have to put money into them to maintaining them, they’re city assets. You want to keep them around for a while.”

Norwalk Parking Authority

Comments

21 responses to “Norwalk: Out-of-towners won’t be fazed by parking fee hikes”

  1. M. Murray

    Unfortunately the prices are going “through the roof” for Norwalkers too. Remember, people from Norwalk who do pay taxes here use these parking lots too and are paying te same high rate as out o towners. Maybe they can come up with a system that let owners of cars that pay taxes here in norwalk park free in these lots with their beach sticker?

  2. LWitherspoon

    Why is the Mayor concerned by the fact that the Parking Authority was obtaining 19 percent of its revenue from parking tickets? Was there a concern that they were ticketing too aggressively?
    If enforcement has since been relaxed and revenue from tickets is lower, then wouldn’t that mean that those of us who actually follow the rules and pay our parking fees have to pay more to fill out the Parking Authority’s budget?

  3. Don’t Panic

    City Budgeting at it’s best. City officials are basing their assertion that out-of-towners are paying the bulk of the parking fees on a GUESS! The Mayor thinks that enforcement of the parking fees should be determined by the budget, instead of by the number of infractions. City officials simultaneously believe that high gas prices keep people close to home, yet the proportion of people using Sono facilities is opposite that trend. And cites the Gingerman as an example–Gingerman is a brand with locations in manhattan and greenwich–it is not an attraction unique to Sono.

    “Wilms wanted to know what percentage of parkers come from out of town. “If I had to guess, probably around 65 percent, maybe 70 percent,” Hebert replied.”

    “I had a concern that too much of your income was based on tickets and we worked closely to cut it down,” Moccia told Hebert during the meeting.

    There’s a lot of communities that have a lot of other things,” and the price of gas keeps people from straying too far. “If a restaurant or a business has a really good product, people are going to go.”

    The private parking lot on Washington Street, next to the Gingerman, is “packed,” she said.

  4. Bryan Meek

    @LWitherspoon. Speaking as an NPA board-member, I can tell you that technology is part of the reason. We have made it easier to comply. Credit card usage at meters dwarfs cash collections now. You can add time to your meter with your cell phone. Anyone who gets only one ticket will tell you that we ticket too aggressively, but the data tell otherwise. Also, the technology is enabling us to be able to monitor the system more effectively and be more flexible to market demands. The NPA could be a model for the rest of the city how you can unleash productivity with small investments in technology and outsourcing operations where it makes financial sense. The one risk area we have is from storms, but there isn’t all that much you can do about that except have a very long horizon and take the good with the bad. Fortunately we did better this year even with Sandy and Nemo than we did a few years ago when snow removal ate up almost 10% of our budget.

  5. They commented that Norwalk had been well above the average for parking violations in similar communities.

  6. Bryan Meek

    @Don’tPanic. We have hard data on permits, but we don’t track where hourly or daily parkers are from. If you’d like I’d be happy to accept your volunteer services to conduct a survey of transient parkers so we can get the very accurate number you require. Until then we can make reasonable inferences from the statistical information we do have. This is a budget based on operational considerations, market forces, possible weather. It is a goal that we track to and our best effort to reasonably estimate what will transpire this year. It isn’t a promise or some attempt to make things fit. Thanks.

    Also, the parkers in the lot next to Gingerman aren’t exclusively going to Gingerman.

  7. Distraught Dem

    Not so fast parking authority. Just because revenue goes up does not mean you have increased demand. You can only determine that if you track number of who park. As far as I can determine, that is not being tracked in the reports that show “demand through the roof.” The Gingerman lot is filled with permit holders, who pay for convenience, not visitors, and certainly most not out-of-towners since many live in buildings without parking. Shame on Fred Wilms who should know better to allow exuberant declarations instead of customer counts to tell the real story. But its an election year, and instead of addressing a real problem, let’s just sing praise from the all mighty dollar hymn sheet and hope no one notices.

  8. Don’t Panic

    @Bryan Meek
    Exactly the point. If so many transient parking transactions are paid
    Using trackable means like credit cards and cell phones, why is the percentage a guess?

    I don’t suggest you have to have these numbers to do a budget. I do prefer that the city not create facts when the data is not available. Many residents will not go to Sono because of the parking fees and it really isn’t all that welcoming to bikers or pedestrians either. Seems like we might have better options than just deciding everyone who parks there is from out of town so its okay to keep raising rates, while simultaneously deciding that we shouldn’t issue fines for infractions.

    If out of town money is not price sensitive then you should be looking to get more of it. You can’t have it both ways.

    As for volunteering, this city’s government (with a few respectful exceptions) shows a serious disdain for citizens who try to help it do a better job. It will receive volunteer help when it is earned.

  9. Tim T

    Bryan
    Would the reasonable inferences from the statistical information we do have be as inaccurate as the mayors calendar?

  10. Tim T

    All these parking fees are is another Moccia tax, like the sewer usage tax and the 4 percent increase in property tax. Its time we vote out the Republicans that can’t seem to control spending. Oh and let us not forget Moccia’s dislike of the elimination of most car taxes.

  11. Bryan Meek

    Rates were left flat on transient parkers. Those are the group that frequent restaraunts and shops. Rates were increased on permits and daily rates in line with the demand and uptick in the local workforce. Rates on fines were raised. Overall the projected revenue impact is in line with our projected expenses at less than 3%. Time will tell, but we are seeing a noticable uptick in activity that has been sorely lacking over the last few years. There are macro forces here beyond anyone’s control. Respectful, critical analysis and suggestions are always welcomed. Uninformed, emotional responses add little value. Volunteers ususally have better information and give productive guidance. I don’t think anyone can reasonably expect changes they want without trying to go half way.

  12. jlightfield

    When you vote to raise transient parking rates in 2011, then your 2012 revenue increases don’t exactly show an uptick in the number of parkers. That is why basing your conclusions on revenue comparisons as the article attachments show isn’t an accurate reflection of demand. The correct way to account for demand is by transaction, which all the pay by park spaces and credit card payments will give you.

  13. Bryan Meek

    We are talking about FY2014. Demand is based on volumes, not dollars. Price elasticity analysis does take into account the dollar impact vs volume demand. But that is a trivial detail, when compared to our flexibility to proactively adjust short term measures when we see changes in market conditions. Actions, not words.

  14. Don’t Panic

    @Bryan Meek

    Perhaps the problem is in the article then. I still see a conflict in the logic that suggests out of towners are taking the hit in increased parking fees. You have just explained that the fees were raised on permits and daily rates that reflect the demand of the local workforce. So, does the 65%-70% out of town parking figure apply to the permit/day rate parkers, who got the raise? Or does it apply to the transient parkers that use the restaurants and shops–which you’ve indicated you don’t have data for and are supposedly the thing that is attracting out of towners despite the raises?

    Just trying to get the facts.

    Who exactly is being emotional? And why does anyone have to volunteer to meet the city “half-way” with unpaid labor in order to ask for a clarification of the facts and a clear presentation of the data? I don’t think that is unreasonable or emotional to ask that the city not present something as fact when it’s already made clear it doesn’t have the data to support the fact.

  15. Bryan Meek

    It is just an estimate based on the limited data we have and a reasonable one at that. Local workforce means people from Norwalk and surrounding towns, even NYC, that travel to work in Norwalk everyday. Those numbers have increased and justified the modest increases we have to keep up with expenses. The point here about estimating the non resident parkers is that Norwalk taxpayers are not paying the full expense of the parking system, which at current growth rates of local government would have cost the city millions upon millions instead of the zero we are spending today. The only time a Norwalk taxpayer pays is when they want to visit. Those who chose not to visit, do not have to pay. This is a city, not a bedroom community and free parking for all is not practical or reasonable given the priorities in our city’s budget like education and safety.

    AND ONE MORE TIME HERE, rates were not raised on transient parkers. The transient parkers are vital to our restaurants and shops. We were careful to ease the burden here given the weakness in these sectors. We can not reliably tell who or where these may all be from. If someone wanted to volunteer and put together hard data on that it would be more welcome than armchair quarterbacking. Credit card transactions do not yield a persons address to the vendor. Only permits and tickets generate this kind of data and based on that, simple statistical evaluation can yield a 95% confidence interval of the expected address of a transient parker. Enforcement’s primary goal is to move traffic through the system. No ticketing would result in abandoned cars or train commuters plugging up valuable store frontage that our retailers just could not afford. The side benefits of enforcement happen to generate some revenue, but again this isn’t the primary reason for enforcement. Look, no one wants to pay for parking and people least of all want to pay parking tickets, but given the realities this is the way it has to be right now. The city owes $11 million on its parking garages and I just don’t see that coming out of more important line items when the parking authority is managing to pay for it plus maintenance.

  16. KATHY GALLAGHER

    My friends and I, Norwalk residents for decades, will not frequent SoNo. The parking situation and concurrent safety issues are the main reasons. So we take our business elsewhere to places where we can park, shop, and eat with safety, convenience, and without worrying about parking meters.

  17. M. Murray

    II still think it would be pretty easy to check the windshield for resident stickers and not ticket norwalk taxpayers

  18. Bryan Meek

    @M. Murray. If you are that passionate about it, get involved and work the system. You’ll probably need the city to approve around a $2 million subsidy to cover this. Given the battles to fund a few extra million for education, that will probably be an uphill fight, but go for it.

  19. Tim T

    Why is it Bryan Meek has the same answer for everyone to basically do it themselves. Maybe he forgot that what he was elected for. Bryan if you don’t want or cant handle the position you could always step down.

    ” If you are that passionate about it, get involved and work the system”
    ” If you’d like I’d be happy to accept your volunteer services to conduct a survey”
    “I don’t think anyone can reasonably expect changes they want without trying to go half way.”

    Also Bryan you say “This is a city, not a bedroom community”. Odd as last I checked Norwalk was NYC’s bedroom Community and not a Moccia urban center.

  20. Tim T

    I think I made an error in my last post. It should have been appointed instead of elected.

  21. Bryan Meek

    Sure Tim. We’ll implement suggestions that will cost the taxpayers millions of dollars because you suggest it might help things. Very helpful you are behind your fortuitous cloak of anonymity.
    (This comment has been edited to conform to our comments policy)

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