Council approves next step in downtown Williamsburg parking revamp

City Council unanimously approved a request from the City Manager’s Office to negotiate a contract with a new parking service for the often-congested downtown parking lots at its meeting Thursday.

This will begin the first of a seven-phase plan to improve downtown parking. These revisions are informed by the findings of a study carried out by Walker Parking Consultants, an Illinois-based firm the city contracted to find ways to modernize the city’s parking regulations in 2016. The consulting firm suggested a complete overhaul and modernization of the current system.

In the upcoming fiscal year, the city is poised to roll out a program that would alter the amounts levied against repeat parking offenders in the paid lots downtown and bring in NuPark Inc., a Texas-based parking management service that would introduce new hardware and software solutions to the parking lots in the downtown area.

The first of many changes coming to parking enforcement will be an adjustment to parking penalties. Under the current plan, the city charges a $10 fine for the first time a driver overstays their allotted time, $30 for the second time and then $50 and $100 for third and fourth violations.

The new system suggested by the City Manager’s Office would add a new $300 charge for drivers who incur five or more violations within a calendar year. From 2016 to 2017, parking enforcement officers issued a total of 3,347 tickets to drivers overstaying their allotted time in the parking lots downtown, with more than 2,000 of those tickets going to drivers committing their first offense. While this shows the first ticket discouraged drivers from repeating their behavior, Assistant City Manager Andrew Trivette hopes the new fees will push that even further.

“The goal of increasing fines is not to generate revenue,” Trivette said. “It’s critically important that we say that and that everybody understand that. The point is to make the parking violation fines substantial enough that you do not violate the terms, because the reason we have timed spaces downtown is to create turnover.”

According to Trivette, NuPark’s system would allow for gate-less parking lots and a cash-less payment system, with residents and tourists paying their parking fees either through a smartphone app or at pay stations throughout the parking area.

The system would cost the city $131,568 to implement and install, with an ongoing annual cost of $48,000. Trivette said these costs would be offset by an expected $57,288 in new revenue as a result of the changes in parking fines.

Trivette suggests placing three license plate reader units at the Prince George Street Garage on North Henry Street, and two mobile units to be placed on police vehicles, which would patrol the lots to find parking offenders.

The system’s license-plate-reading technology would record the plate number of each car entering the lot and then track how long they are parked. This eliminates the need for parking gates, which Trivette estimates would otherwise cost the city $100,000. The data that these license plate reading sensors provide would also allow parking attendants to track how many spots in each lot are taken and how long each car is scheduled to be parked there, which would give the attendants a clearer idea of expected turnover rates.

“The sensor is such an important part of what we need, because we want to provide occupancy data (for the lots) much more frequently,” Trivette said.

The plan would also develop a “parking ambassador” training program for the three part-time parking enforcement officers in the Williamsburg Police Department, who would be responsible for informing and assisting parking customers.

Vice Mayor Scott Foster said if the new program is successful, the city would be able to avoid switching to paid street parking, which was originally suggested by the consulting firm. He hopes the modernized system will encourage drivers to park in the lots and ease the congestion brought by cars parking on the street.

“Having space turnover downtown is vital. If this is effective and the perceived parking volume downtown is better than it is today, we will be able to stop short of actually going to paid parking,” said Vice Mayor Scott Foster. “Let’s give it some teeth now, see if it works and give it our best shot at not having downtown-wide paid parking.”

Next Steps

The City Manager’s Office will now begin the process of entering into a multi-year contract with NuPark Inc. The new parking system is expected to be introduced some time in the upcoming fiscal year. City Council’s next work session has been postponed, but is expected to be held April 24. A time has not yet been announced.

Other items of note

During the meeting, Mayor Paul Freiling also presented city Parks and Recreation Deputy Director William “Tyler” Cobb with the Excellence in Service to Williamsburg award in recognition for his work as one of the driving forces behind bringing the National Softball Association’s Class A and B Eastern World Series events to Williamsburg this past July. “Since joining the department, Tyler has been a driving force for excellence,” said Freiling.

Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.

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