Monday, August 30, 2021 by Chad Swiatecki

Transportation budget includes post-pandemic rebound in parking fees

The Transportation Department’s $152 million budget was made possible in part by a rebound in parking revenue after a steep decline caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, which drastically reduced single-passenger vehicle use for much of 2020.

In a presentation to the Urban Transportation Commission earlier this month, Transportation Department Director Robert Spillar said parking revenues in the next budget are expected to reach $11.3 million, a roughly 10 percent increase in the amount projected in the current budget that includes the end of 2020, when commercial activity was significantly decreased.

An increase in the department’s transportation user fee – roughly 85 cents per household per month – will generate an additional $6.5 million, while a change in permitting practices will generate $3.5 million more in revenue.

Spillar said parking revenue had previously been seen as reliable and predictable, but having those funds dry up significantly through 2020 and 2021 changed some of the forecasting and how the department will rely on those funds as part of the budget process going forward.

“A bright spot is that parking revenues are returning back to pre-pandemic levels, but it is still very unstable, and as the pandemic continues to unfold, parking revenue is seen as a lot like commercial revenue in that it is very dependent on people actually showing up and using the parking system,” he said. “If we go into another shutdown or slowdown, that is going to have a major effect on parking, which accounts for about 23 percent of our (non-capital project) revenue, and that is the piece that significantly shrunk during the pandemic.”

The $152 million total includes the Transportation Department’s responsibilities tied to several groups of Public Works road projects that were funded by a series of voter-approved bond proposals. The amount of $118.4 million in Fiscal Year 2022 will come from 2016 bonds approved to improve major arterial roads around the city, with another $27.8 million coming from bonds approved in 2020.

Spillar said the department’s capital delivery program is working with Public Works to speed up the completion of low-difficulty projects that can improve safety.

“This group was really designed to identify those quick-response safety and intersection projects to be able to get out into the community and get those safety benefits performing quickly,” he said. “We’re trying to focus on intersections that may have high numbers of crashes that suggests there could be a high risk, meaning that we may be addressing some intersections that don’t have a high number of fatalities … we’re trying to get to them before they have those fatalities.”

Spillar said a recent analysis of the department’s costs related to development and building activity led to an increase in those fees, with the department becoming more involved in how projects are planned and carried out.

Permitting fees are expected to generate $22.5 million during the next budget year.

“You may hear over this next year developers and people who are getting a permit, not a shock, but certainly making some comments about this permit (fee) going up. It reflects our costs to service for what we’re required to provide.”

He added: “That will be something we’ll be needing to monitor over the next year, and reach out to developers and individual homeowners to explain and help them understand what they’re getting for that. We believe we’ll be able to provide a much better service as we go forward.”

Photo by Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Urban Transportation Commission: The UTC is the body charged with advising the City of Austin's Mayor and Council on transportation-related issues.

Transportation Department: This city department is responsible for municipal transportation planning including roadways and bikeways.

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