The City of East Lansing is still feeling the effects of underutilized City-owned parking lots and decreased revenue related to parking tickets during the pandemic, but a series of price increases to parking rates in City-owned lots and ramps, coupled with proposed hikes to fines for parking meter violations, are being considered by East Lansing City Council as it prepares the City’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 budget, which runs from July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2023.
The City’s parking system seems to have fared better during FY 2022 after operating in the red during FY 2020 and 2021, but parking fee increases are still on the horizon for FY 2023.
In June 2020, Director of Planning Tom Fehrenbach told Council that the parking system was experiencing financial stress, and a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by East Lansing Info regarding parking revenues showed that for FY 2020, the City brought in roughly $388,000 less than expected.
As classes and work shifted from offices to homes, fewer people used downtown parking. In June 2020, Council voted to end free two-hour parking in its lots and garages in hopes of slowing the loss of parking-related revenue.
As of November 2021, the City noted that at peak hours, only 48% of all spots in City-owned lots and ramps were in use, with cars clustering in the Albert Avenue and Grove Street Garages. The main concern for the City is that underutilized lots are not generating revenuesas planned, and favored lots experience greater wear and tear.
According to an agenda attachment for the upcoming Council meeting on Tuesday, April 19, “The Parking Department is proposing increasing Albert and Grove garage rates to $1.00/half hour, with a $20.00 daily max, during this budget process.”
Currently, “gated parking garages have a $0.75/half hour fee, with a $15.00 daily max. The gated surface lot (Bailey Lot 11) has a $1.00/half hour fee, with a daily max of $20.00,” according to the attachment.
The hope is that raising fees for parking this upcoming fiscal year at the Albert Avenue and Grove Street Garages will divert parking to underutilized parking ramps, like those on Charles Street, Division Street, and M.A.C. Avenue.
Permit fees for spots in the Albert Avenue Garage, Bailey Street Garage, City Hall West Lot, Evergreen Avenue Lot, and Valley Court Lot may see prices jump by $5 a month. Permits for the Grove Street Garage could increase $10 a month.
Businesses that would like to reserve meters by placing a bag over them may also see daily, weekly, and monthly meter rate increases by $5, $25, and $100 respectively—coming to $25, $125, and $500.
Raising parking meter prices and related fines for violations may also push drivers to use City-owned garages and lots.
Council was set to hear about the possibility of increasing fines related to parking meter violations at its April 12 discussion only meeting, but at the urging of City Manager George Lahanas, Council deferred hearing the presentation until its April 19 meeting.
Parking enforcement became another source of revenue loss during the pandemic. Between Jan. 1, 2020, and Aug. 31, 2020, the City collected $350,723.25 in fees related to parking tickets while shelling out $369,718.88 to keep Parking and Code Enforcement (PACE) functioning.
Since 2010, fines for meter violations have been $20, and if the offender paid the fine by the end of the next business day, the price is discounted to $10. But the maximum price that the City charges for parking in gated ramps is $15/day, and $20/day for the Bailey Street surface lot.
Given those prices, drivers might opt to park at a meter without paying because paying the resulting ticket the next day is cheaper than paying the daily rate in a City parking garage. As a result, City staff is asking Council to consider raising the fine for parking meter violations to $30, with a $10 discount if the ticket is paid by the end of the next business day.
According to the April 19 agenda attachment, street meter rates are also set to increase this July. The increase was approved in 2020, but the hike was not implemented due to ongoing construction and the pandemic. Meters currently are priced at $0.75 for each half-hour, but the attachment did not include the new rates.
These possible increases come on the heels of Council voting at its April 5 meeting in favor of allocating $750,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act to support the parking system. These funds are divided between technology integration ($100,000) and renovations and repairs funding ($650,000), which will match other parking funds for projects like modernizing the elevators at the Charles Garage.