When the city’s Parking Enterprise announced its new fee schedule last week, we should have provided more information on the revenue and the structure of the City Parking Enterprise. This has led to some misinformation and frustration. I am writing to remedy that.
First, the parking system in Colorado Springs is not funded by tax dollars. That is because our parking system is an enterprise. Enterprises are city-owned businesses that are supported by user fees. The eight city enterprises are the Airport, Cemetery Enterprise, Development Review Enterprise, Golf Enterprise, Memorial Health System, Parking System Enterprise, Pikes Peak and Stormwater Enterprise.
The city’s three public garages and 2,600 parking meters are funded by users who pay to use the service. If you use the service, you pay for it. If you don’t, you don’t. Further, money generated by an enterprise can only be used on that enterprise. For example, when you pay to drive the Pikes Peak Highway, that money can only be used for Pikes Peak Enterprise’s operations and expenses. It does not go into the city’s budget. It is the same for the Parking Enterprise.
The Parking Enterprise generates about $5 million per year. The additional hours and slight increases will generate about a 20% increase, or $1 million per year.
Many have inquired how the enterprise will use this $1 million. The answers are: improved technology, deferred maintenance and planning for the city’s growth.
A citywide meter replacement project will make parking downtown easier and more convenient. New technology allow users to pay or extend time from a smartphone, to locate available spots on a device (rather than circling the block) and to better manage parking inventory. The data gathered will also help us add capacity in the right locations.
The meter technology will support a tiered system, where shorter stays are encouraged at meters, and longer stays in garages. By keeping parking spots turning over, visitors are more likely to find a spot right in front of their destination.
January’s rate increase was the city’s first in 14 years. As the 39th largest city in America, our rates have lagged behind similarly sized cities and the lack of revenue has caused our garages to fall into disrepair. A 2019 study revealed that the maintenance and technology needs of the parking system are about $10 million.
As hulking concrete structures, the most urgent repairs are in garages. Replacement of stairwells and unreliable elevators, cracking concrete and repairing, replacing and sealing joints to keep water from compromising stability are the top concerns. We must address these issues to protect our investment in these structures and extend their useful life.
Planning for future growth
Our city and our downtown are growing quickly. The parking enterprise must keep up by planning for the future. Increased revenue allows the enterprise to increase our bonding capacity for future projects, including new structures. Again, these will not be funded with tax dollars.
Low parking rates
Colorado Springs’ parking costs are low compared with other North American cities.
Parkopedia ranks the top 50 cities in parking costs. Colorado Springs’ most central meters rank 35th. The $1 meters 45th. The 75-cent meters do not make the list.
Our garage parking is even more affordable. The $1 evening and weekend rates are nearly unheard of. For hourly, daily and monthly parking in structures, Colorado Springs is well outside the top 50 most expensive cities:
2-hour Rate in 50th Most Expensive City
Cincinnati - $5.43
2-hour Rate in Colorado Springs
Daily Rate in 50th Most Expensive City
Minneapolis - $14.85
Daily Rate in Colorado Springs
Monthly Rate in 50th Most Expensive City
Houston - $117.67
Monthly Rate in Colorado Springs
It is our goal that everyone who comes downtown is able to park quickly and efficiently. This means providing available parking, updated technology and sufficient structured parking spaces. I know parking increases are never going to be popular. Nevertheless, it is my hope that this column has provided some context for the need to increase revenue, while funding a more user-friendly experience downtown.
Scott Lee is parking director for Colorado Springs Parking Systems Enterprise.