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Phoenix parking meter rates on their way up during prime times

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story erroneously listed new rates planned for parking meters in Phoenix.

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PHOENIX – John Thomas is used to slipping change into the parking meter while making his daily stop at Cartel Coffee Lab downtown.

But that could soon become a more expensive proposition with the city of Phoenix considering raising parking meter rates from a flat $1.50 an hour to rates that vary according to location and demand around events. As of mid-November, the rates will range from  50 cents to $4 per hour.

Thomas, who lives downtown, doesn’t relish the prospect of having to pay in the first place, let alone play more. On top of that, he objects to the city recently expanding the hours that people must feed meters from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

“You should have free parking until there’s a demand, and then people would want to pay,” he said.

Inside Cartel Coffee Lab, however, barista William Kennedy said the move could bring more traffic to downtown businesses.

“It will stop people from parking for three to four hours, which can really hurt businesses, “ he said.

The Phoenix City Council approved the change in June to help address a budget gap. One of a number of changes approved to generate $11 million, the increase is expected to net the city about $800,000 during the current fiscal year that ends June 30.

Monica Hernandez, public information officer for the city, said the demand-based pricing is still a work in progress.

“We’re conducting a number of studies looking at the usage of our parking meter inventory,” Hernandez said. “That will be where we see increases or decreases in our parking rate structure.”

Vice Mayor Jim Waring, who voted against the ordinance, said high parking rates will discourage consumers from coming to the area.

“The proposal was born of desperation because of mismanaged money elsewhere,” he said.

But David Krietor, CEO of the marketing and development group Downtown Phoenix Inc., said the plan will help Phoenix move toward a more dynamic pricing model similar to other metropolitan areas.

“Right now we are managing parking meters really on an ad hoc basis that does not recognize market dynamics,” Krietor said at the council meeting in June.

Stephen Happel, professor emeritus at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, said even though downtown Phoenix is more vibrant than 10 years ago it still attracts a certain clientele.

“Not a lot of people shop or drive to downtown Phoenix,” he said. “It’s professionals going to meetings for a relatively short-term period.”

Happel said downtown could see more private parking garages and lots because of the rate increase, as there will be less of a difference in rates.

The downtown area has about 20 parking garages, with most charging $2-$3 per hour and $12-$14 a day, according to the Downtown Phoenix Partnership.

Back at Cartel Coffee Lab, Kennedy said the increasing rates may encourage more residents to use public transportation.

“Luckily, I live close so I can just hop on the light rail to get to work,” he said.