- Associated Press - Thursday, July 28, 2016

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) - It’s quiet downtown. A year ago, that might have been unimaginable.

Four months after Galveston turned on its new downtown parking program - electronic meters included - cries from the program’s loudest critics have softened to a whisper.

“Adding the parking meters was a huge benefit,” said Allen Flores, a business owner, who over the last year has been one of the loudest critics of the city’s downtown parking policies. “I wish they would have added more than what they did, but the fact is, it has been better than just relying on the secondary system.”

The Galveston County Daily News (https://bit.ly/2aksEGc ) reports the latest iteration of downtown parking was activated in April. The city installed new electronic parking kiosks at each intersection downtown, which can accept cash or credit cards and again turned on its PayByPhone parking system.

The loss of a physical payment option was one of the main gripes made about the downtown parking plan that was approved March 2015. At that time, the city council decided to remove dozens of electronic parking meters, which were out of warranty, and to manage downtown parking using a smartphone application.

The change led some business people, including Flores, to complain about a loss of business because of confusion or frustrations caused by the smartphone app.

While some downtown businesses were willing to help visitors pay for parking using phones or tablet, the concept wasn’t universal.

City staff and former District 3 Councilman Ralph McMorris spent months meeting on possible changes to the system. Ultimately, the council decided to bring back a smaller number of meters.

That decision seems to have done the trick.

“I’ve heard zero complaints,” said Trey Click, executive director of the Galveston Downtown Partnership. “I’m someone that people love to complain to, but I haven’t heard anything.”

The return of paid parking downtown has led to an increase in the number of parking tickets issued there.

In April, the city’s parking enforcement division issued 165 tickets on The Strand between 25th Street and 20th Street. They gave out 156 in May; 70 in June and 30 partway through July. That’s 421 tickets through the first three months and change of the parking program.

During all of 2015, the city issued 414 tickets on The Strand.

That’s because for much of the year, the city had to suspend giving parking citations downtown in order to allow new signs to be made and for the public to get acclimated to perpetually new rules.

Michael Gray, the city’s downtown parking supervisor, said there was no intentional reason for the drop in tickets between May and June.

“There was no sinister plan by the city to drop the juggernaut,” in the early months of the program, Gray said. “I believe the downtick is people coming into compliance.”

Since the system was turned on, the city has collected $248,434, Gray said. Of that $139,391, or 56 percent of the downtown parking revenue, was paid for through the PayByPhone system. The remaining $109,043.40 was paid for through the parking kiosks.

There’s been no talk of changing the parking rules again since the council passed its latest rules in January.

“I’m not hearing any major concerns,” said District 2 Councilman Craig Brown. “The concerns I have heard are not focused on the particular system we have but things I’ve heard in the past for years downtown. I occasionally hear ‘Why can’t the residents get an annual pass?’ But I’ve been hearing that on every system we have.”

City officials say the purpose of the downtown parking system is not to provide parking spots for residents but to create turnover for retail businesses that depend on foot traffic. Paid parking is in effect between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday.

Brown said he had no plans to propose any changes to the parking system.

Flores, too, said he didn’t plan to ask for any changes downtown.


Information from: The Galveston County Daily News, https://www.galvnews.com

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