Parking Getting Pricey Downtown

City Council has sold off downtown’s free parking lots over the past fifteen years, transitioning to a private model in which the city relies on the Charlottesville Parking Corporation’s garages and open lot to provide adequate parking for those who live, work, and visit downtown. Last year the rates increased by 50% an hour, from $1.00 to $1.50. Now the hourly rates are going up again, from $1.50 to $2.00. (The Water Street garage stays $0.50 behind the other spots, and is just now going from $1.00 to $1.50.) In today’s Daily Progress article about the change, John Yellig and Liesel Nowak toss out this bit without further elaboration:

In March, CPC raised the fee downtown businesses pay to validate customers’ parking stubs. Under the program, a business can stamp a paying customer’s ticket for up to two hours of free parking. The minimum fee went from $60 to $75 per month, but larger businesses saw higher increases, [CPC President Bob] Stroh said.

Motorists will no longer be able to use the two-hour validations at the Water Street lot.

(Emphasis mine.)

It’s not clear to me whether that means that the Water Street lot will not accept any validated tickets, or just not two-hour validated tickets, but in either case, I worry that this is the camel’s nose in the tent. Water Street GarageThe model for parking under which City Council has eliminated the free lots has been one in which the merchants foot the bill for customers and employees to park downtown. It’s awkward for out-of-town visitors, but it’s basically worked. Eliminating validated parking would completely change the model.

Something that I can’t fit into this puzzle is last year’s news that this very lot on Water Street is for sale. That chunk of land has been assessed at $7M, which must make it a tempting sale for CPC shareholders. But the company, established in 1959, has always prided itself on having a mission of providing inexpensive parking downtown rather than profit-seeking, so it’s not clear how the two interests intertwine.

As a private enterprise, CPC can do whatever it likes; if they want to charge $50/hour and the right to take your car on a joyride, that’s their business. Here’s hoping that the two garages — unlike the open lot — are governed by arrangements with the city that would prevent the elimination of validation. If the city has allowed itself to become dependent on CPC for parking without ensuring that the company would continue to provide free-to-visitors parking, that would be a tremendously nearsighted move.

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