Featured photo: New parking meters, increased fees and more tickets could be coming soon to downtown Winston-Salem

Camel City residents: Get ready to fork over more money when you park downtown.

As the city develops a plan to glean more cash by increasing the cost of parking, the city’s Department of Transportation staff is preparing a request for proposals for a third-party parking vendor. The company will provide equipment such as electronic parking meters, payment options via phone, enforcement software and ticket appeal support for the program. Potential changes include an increase in parking fees and more tickets overall.

This information was presented on Tuesday to councilmembers during the city’s Public Works Committee meeting by transportation operations manager Reid Hutchins.

Between on-street and off-street parking, the city has 2,500 spaces managed by two parking enforcement officers, Hutchins said.

Hutchins made note of the fact that one of the biggest challenges with the city’s parking program is their current ticket-appeal system.

“Our current enforcement officers spend about an hour of each workday dealing with appeals from citizens,” Hutchins said.

“If we could outsource that program, that would be a huge benefit. It would get our enforcement officers on the street more and allow them to write more tickets,” he added.

The vendor would manage the city’s on-street parking, as well as off-street parking such as lots and decks.

Parking in downtown Winston-Salem has typically been cheaper than most cities, according to a city official. (file photo)

He added that another goal would be to “reduce the subsidy” — that’s city-speak for increasing the price for a parking spot.

In many places around the city — such as spots on Third Street next to the Sheriff’s Office — the price to park is 25 cents per hour. And the rusty old meters will only accept quarters. 

“This technology is out of date,” Hutchins said.

Other places around the city have more modern technology. For street parking on Second Street next to City Hall, an electronic machine takes cash, coins or cards.

Some of the old parking meters in downtwon Winston-Salem only take quarters. (photo by Gale Melcher)

“If you look at other municipalities comparable to our size, they’re all in the $1-$1.50 range,” Hutchins noted. Winston-Salem’s fees are “much lower than any municipality in the area,” he said.

Hutchins said that they will be “coming back to this committee and the city council for a proposed rate hike.”

They might play around with the enforcement time range, too.

Hutchins said that they would “have the ability”  to expand outside of the typical 8 a.m.-5 p.m. range.

“If we want to go 8-10, or 8-midnight or something along those lines, once we get a little further in that’s what we’re looking to possibly do,” Hutchins said. “Add some more enforcement, bring in some more revenues for the city.”

So what will this cost the city?

As compensation for their services, the vendor would receive a percentage of the transaction, Hutchins said, suggesting a hypothetical recompense to the committee: “Let’s say if our parking rate is $1, they’ll take 20 cents of each dollar.” 

Hutchins said that it’s “beneficial to partner with a vendor,” as he went on to name Greensboro, Charlotte, Raleigh, Asheville and Wilmington — all cities who partner with third-party companies that enforce the pay-to-park rules for their municipalities.

Hutchins believes that they will have a vendor selected by springtime next year.

Might this scheme dissuade downtown traffic? Draw the ire of locals?

Some councilmembers think so.

“One of the things that could attract people to be downtown is no cost for parking,” Councilmember Annette Scippio said.

Hutchins acknowledged the appeal that downtown’s low cost has on foot traffic.

“People love to come to downtown Winston because it costs 25 cents to park,” he said.

“It is something I can pretty much guarantee not 100 percent of the public is gonna be happy about when we do roll it out,” Councilmember Jeff MacIntosh said.

Still, MacIntosh appeared to be on board with the idea. 

“Our goal is to allocate parking most efficiently to the people who use it most and are most willing to pay for it,” he said.

MacIntosh continued, ”Customers who want to shop at a particular retail location; they should have the first shot at parking in front of a store. Right now, that’s not the case. You can sit there and linger and be there all day.”

“Free parking is not free,” he noted, adding that some communities “use their parking policy as a method to write tickets and collect fees.”

“That is not where we’re going,” he said.

“We have lots of time for discussion,” MacIntosh noted. However, he added that he would “really, really like to have this in place” before he leaves office since he won’t be running for reelection in 2024.

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