Park Beaufort looks toward improvements to parking meters downtown

emoody@beaufortgazette.comMarch 14, 2013 

In this file photo, James Holt of Park Beaufort installs a coin-operated parking meter Thursday morning on Bay Street in downtown Beaufort. City Council voted in 2011 to install double-space, coin-only meters along Bay Street, moving six parking kiosks -- which accepted debit and credit cards along with cash and coins -- to other downtown parking lots less than seven months after they first appeared.

JONATHAN DYER/THE BEAUFORT GAZETTE

Three years into a five-year contract to manage the city of Beaufort's downtown parking, Lanier Parking Services officials say they're making money, enforcing violations and planning for better technology.

Lanier Parking, known locally as Park Beaufort, told City Council this week that its net revenue dipped just more than 6 percent in the past year, from $163,000 from July 2010 to June 2011 to $152,000 in the same period of 2011-12.

However, Scott Diggs of Lanier noted no major problems to the council in his presentation Tuesday. The decrease is accounted for by a drop in pay station revenue due to the decision to remove them from Bay Street in favor of traditional meters.

Meters and pay stations accounted for most of the parking revenue -- 38 percent and 32 percent, respectively. Fines from violations brought in 17 percent. Last year, more than $81,000 in violations was paid, and an average of 33 tickets were written each day.

Diggs said the numbers suggest Beaufort motorists comply with parking laws most of the time, noting that in many cities, violations make up a third of parking revenue.

"We don't want to write parking tickets; that's not the goal," Diggs said. "The goal is to have an effective program where people are actually paying the meters."

A plan to install along Bay Street meters that look like traditional, coin-operated devices but also accept credit and debit cards should boost revenue, Diggs said. Ten such meters were put in place this month for a trial run.

Diggs also said about 70 of the city's 169 meters in the city will need to be replaced soon because they are old and breaking more frequently. Park Beaufort tries to keep the machines that work better in busier areas.

"Our team has done an excellent job of going over the warehouse and pulling spare parts from machines and putting them into the ones on the streets to keep everything functioning," Diggs said. "But we're getting to the place where our warehouse inventory is getting depleted."

The credit-card enabled machines cost about $600; the traditional machines cost about $450, he said. Diggs said the credit-card machines typically bring in more money because people prefer to buy more time than they think they need as a precaution. With conventional machines, parkers are limited by the amount of change in their pockets.

Lundy Baker of Park Beaufort says that between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., the average parked car stays in the same spot on Bay Street for about four hours.

Mayor Billy Keyserling asked the parking company to calculate how much it would cost to monitor parking without meters. His goal is to create turnover in parking spaces to help businesses, which the meters are shown to do.

"I think hearing you, mayor, say it's about turnover is important because it has lately seemed like it was about the money and that's what people don't want to see," said LaNelle Fabian, executive director of Main Street Beaufort.

That organization receives 15 percent of parking revenues, and the city's Redevelopment Commission receives 85 percent.

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