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Program expansion more than doubles cheap nighttime parking downtown

Tuesday, July 31, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

The city is more than doubling the amount of affordable parking spaces available for evening-hours workers in downtown Austin businesses, building on the success of a pilot program that started in 2016.

The expansion of the Affordable Parking Program will see it opened up to two new parking garages – at the City Hall garage on Second Street and at One Texas Center on Barton Springs Road – in addition to the garage at 11th Street near Interstate 35 that began serving employees in the Red River Cultural District in May 2016. The Texas Facilities Commission made its garage at Fourth and Nueces streets available to the program in April. There will now be roughly 500 spaces available to workers focused in the hospitality and nightlife industry, who can pay $35 per month for the city garages or $65 per month for the state garage, with permits for the passes available online.

The program is part of the Downtown Austin Alliance’s 19-point Downtown Parking Strategy to make the city core easier to navigate and enjoy for visitors, residents and employees. The issue has been a topic of discussion for years in various city boards and commissions such as the Music Commission since employees at bars and nightclubs faced difficulty finding parking for their shifts and faced high prices that cut heavily into their earnings.

“We heard that parking was becoming a problem as far as employee retention for downtown businesses, and once the city got all the issues figured out, they decided to pull the trigger and make space available,” said Molly Alexander, DAA’s executive vice president of economic development. “The pilot program showed there was enough demand, and we knew that the more garages we worked to open up, there would be the demand to fill them.”

Estimates using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest there are 1,370 evening shift workers in downtown Austin, with another 824 employees working later night shifts.

Alexander said DAA has been working with the general managers of downtown hotels and restaurants to determine usage patterns and hours for the program, though the afternoon start times of many hotels’ late shifts make those employees hard to serve with an evening-hours program.

She said the Affordable Parking Program was the first item implemented from the DAA’s parking strategy because it was expected to quickly make an improvement in the nightlife economy for downtown businesses and their employees.

The next initiatives to go into effect will be increased enforcement of downtown curbside parking rules – in an effort to decrease long-term use of those spaces and pushing use of nearby lots and garages – and completion of an app-like technology early next year that will give drivers real-time information on available parking options and costs.

Alexander said DAA is also in talks with owners of private parking lots and garages and their operators to gradually bring more spaces into the program, with use patterns in the four participating garages helping to determine what downtown areas have the most need. She said private parking businesses have thus far had issues with managing single-payer programs and need to see consistent demand data, while some state garages have rules about their hours of operation that can prevent their participation.

An added expected benefit of the program’s expansion is a decrease in traffic because fewer cars will be forced to circle congested streets searching for available parking spots.

“Studies have shown that, on average, 30 percent of the cars in downtown traffic are looking for parking,” Dewitt Peart, president and CEO of the Downtown Austin Alliance, said in a statement. “Having enough convenient, available parking spaces is critical to keeping traffic flowing as downtown continues to grow. It’s also crucial to keeping the economy going, as parking options help attract people to work, eat and shop downtown.”

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