Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) The Missoula Parking Commission this month will consider the recommendations of a recent study that would change the way parking is managed downtown and increase fees for both permit and hourly parking.

Jodi Pilgrim, the city’s parking services director, told members of the Missoula City Council on Wednesday that while the city has changed in the 50 years since the parking commission was founded, the commission itself needs more tools to adapt to the changes.

“The problem was that we have an inflexible system,” said Pilgrim. “We charge in certain areas because we always have, and we sell permits to certain user-types because we always have. We don’t have the appropriate mechanism in place to change when change is required.”

Under the proposed plan, the commission would collect data surrounding inventory and occupancy checks, and the length of an average stay. The data will be collected both within the parking commission’s current jurisdiction and beyond to see if the district needs to expand.

Pilgrim said it will also look at modernizing the commission’s approach to neighborhood parking.

“The current approach allows for a certain group in the population to purchase permits and have exclusive access to the right of way,” she said. “What this plan proposes is that we open up the parking for more permit types, so different users can get a permit and park in the area.”

That would include a commuter permit for those that work in the area, along with a daily permit option for contractors. It would also include an option for short-term parking to support visitation.

Pilgrim said they will also work to recover costs in the neighborhood parking program.

“The current cost recovery covers 27% of the cost it takes to run the program,” she said. “We’d be increasing permit prices by roughly $20 per year for the next four years to get the program to a point of cost neutrality.”

Any revenue generated beyond cost recovery would go toward organizational partners and support transportation options in the community, she added.

Permits and meters

The proposed plan also looks and commercial and employee permits in the downtown business district. Pilgrim said businesses have a hard time getting and keeping employees due to limited parking.

She said the recommended plan looks to leverage smart technology and data analysis to serve more people and in different ways. The intent is to support more employees in the commercial business district, she added.

“Our current leased parking areas are underutilized, even when they’re fully leased out, and many of them have a waiting list,” she said. “It points to people holding on to these parking spaces whether they use them or not and it doesn’t allow us to support other users who need access to those spaces.”

A downtown parking garage. (City of Missoula)

A downtown parking garage. (City of Missoula)

Reserved permits would increase 10% a year for the next three years, she said. Parking fines would also increase within the district, but how much hasn’t been set. The highest current fine tops out at $20.

“The graduated rate would be applied to all violations over a 12-month period rather than just a six-month period,” she said. “Increasing our fines is intended to discourage repeat offenders and is intended to decrease revenues by encouraging an actual change in parking behavior.”

While the downtown parking meters were installed as recently as 2015, Pilgrim said they’re reaching the end of their useful life, and new meters are tap. But even so, downtown businesses don’t want the city to discard the current Passport parking app.

While the parking commission plans to keep the app, it will likely increase on-street parking rates. As proposed, the rate increase is $0.50 per hour for stays under five hours, $1 per hour for stays between five and seven hours, and $1.50 per hour for stays longer than seven hours.

While the parking study recommended extending parking hours to 8 p.m., that won’t likely happen, Pilgrim said. Instead, it will remain 5 p.m.

“Our on-street parking rates are currently pretty close to industry standard for a town of our size, but they are a bit low,” she said. “The near-term recommendation is to slightly increase on-street rates to increase demand distribution and to reduce excessive circulation.”

She said an increase to the on-street rate could also boost the use of off-street facilities, where a rate increase isn’t proposed. To read the full plan, follow this link.

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Gallery Credit: Ashley

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