Parking Authority Blog

The Science of Operating Parking Garages

January 17, 2018

The City of Baltimore and its residents own 17 parking garages.  The City has borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars to construct the garages, which cost between $20,000 and $35,000 per parking space to build.  The City pays the operating expenses of the garages, totaling about $13 million per year.  The City also pays millions of dollars per year for capital repairs and replacement of systems in City-owned garages (concrete repairs; elevators; parking access and revenue control systems; lighting; plumbing).  As you can see, the City has made and continues to make, huge investments in these parking assets.

The Parking Authority manages those garages on behalf of the City.  We believe that the City and its residents should expect the highest possible financial return on investment on these assets they have, and continue to, vest so much in.  And we believe it should be those who use the garages who, over time, pay for the garages’ construction, operation, and ongoing maintenance because, if they don’t, it is the residents and businesses of Baltimore City themselves who must “subsidize” these costs through increased taxes.

We take our job of managing these parking garages very seriously, and we use science to help us do it: 

  • We have developed formulas for each garage that help us determine the mix of transient parkers (those who park for only a few hours or for a day) and monthly contract parkers that will maximize garage revenues. 
  • We also use data collected on parking rates at nearby garages and data on our garages’ occupancy to determine rate elasticity - whether we can adjust parking rates at our garages to push revenues higher. 
  • We use data on the percentage of monthly contract parkers who actually park in our garages and the number of transient customers in our garages each day to develop formulas that let us know if we can “oversell” monthly contracts at a particular garage (i.e. sell more monthly contracts for a particular garage than we have spaces in that garage).

Based on our recommendations, the City has installed parking access and revenue control systems at its garages which allow us to strictly and efficiently control the collection of parking revenues.  Those systems also provide us, at our fingertips, with the data we need to make those calculations above and maximize the City’s return on investments in their parking garages.

Expenses of building and maintaining parking garages

PABC Maximizes the City's Return on Investment

Car Sharing Reduces Parking Demand in Baltimore

January 31, 2017

Zipcar Vehicle

You’ve probably seen people driving around Baltimore in vehicles with a big green “Z” on the side over the past several years. And, you may have noticed some bright green signs popping up on street corners or in parking lots or garages. You may have wondered where these cars came from and why are they here?

What Is It?

In 2010, the Parking Authority of Baltimore City contracted with Zipcar to bring car sharing to Baltimore City. Car sharing is a service that provides access to vehicles to members for short-term trips without the burden of full-time car ownership. This makes it easier for an individual to give up a car or for a family to reduce the number of cars they own. They can walk, take transit or ride bicycles most of the time and reserve a car sharing vehicle for the occasional times they must drive.

Why Do We Support Car Sharing?

Residents have given up more than 3,000 cars in Baltimore City because of our work with Zipcar. That’s good for parking.  It means fewer cars competing for a very limited number of on-street spaces and fewer parking spaces that need to be built. The price to build a new parking garage to accommodate the 3,000 cars that were given up by Zipcar members would have cost taxpayers $75 Million. It’s called a parking demand management strategy and it’s working.

Do People Use Car Sharing?

The car sharing program started seven years ago with only a couple of hundred members and 17 Zipcar vehicles. Today, there are thousands of Baltimore Zipcar members sharing 180 vehicles parked at 75 different locations.

What’s Planned for the Future?

We will continue to support car sharing in the future. Our contract with Zipcar expires in 2017, but we plan on issuing a Request for Proposals to allow car sharing to continue in Baltimore. We also are working on creating a partnership with another type of car sharing organization that allows drivers to pick up a vehicle in one location and drop it off at another. It’s called point to point car sharing. It gives one more option to people who rely on alternative forms of transportation and provide support to those who have given up a car. We plan on making it possible for point to point car sharing to operate in Baltimore within the next year.

November 1, 2016


Why We Should All Love Parking Meters!

Parking Meters Help Solve Parking Problems by Creating Turnover

Parking meters!  Ugh. Who would like parking meters? Why do we even have the darn things?

Well… they exist to solve a problem, not to drive you crazy.  As a matter of fact, they were invented to solve that problem.  

In the mid-1930’s, downtown workers in Oklahoma City parked in the most convenient parking spaces for them – on-street parking spaces in the heart of downtown, in front of the buildings where they worked.  But, those buildings also housed restaurants and shops.  This wasn’t a problem for those workers, but it was a big problem for those restaurants and shops.  Because all of the spaces in closest proximity to their establishments were occupied all day by downtown workers, their customers had to park in lots or on-street at the edges of town, blocks away.  Their customers didn’t like that, and they began to lose business.  

In 1935, Oklahoma City leaders turned to a couple of professors at Oklahoma State University to help solve the problem.  Their solution was the parking meter!  Parking meters were installed at on-street parking spaces throughout downtown Oklahoma City, charging a nickel per hour to park.  Downtown workers, unwilling to pay forty to fifty cents to park all day, started parking in the lots on the edges of downtown where parking was cheaper or free.  Patrons of downtown shops and restaurants then had convenient on-street places to park, and they didn’t mind paying five or ten cents for that privilege.

Why parkers should love parking meters

If you are coming to Baltimore to do some shopping, to eat at a restaurant, or to visit an attraction for a few hours, don’t you want to park at the spaces that are most convenient and closest to your destination?  If you have to park too far away, then you’re probably not going to patronize that shop, restaurant, or attraction.  Just like in Oklahoma City 80 years ago, parking meters help to create that availability of convenient on-street parking spaces for short-term parkers.

Why businesses should love parking meters

Who are the most important people to a business?  A business’ customers, of course!  Without customers, and the revenue they bring to businesses, businesses simply could not survive.  If their customers are less likely to patronize a business if they have to park further away, any business should love a tool that helps to make the closest parking spaces available to their customers.  Parking meters do just that!

Why everyone in cities should love parking meters

There is never an unlimited supply of parking anywhere, especially in urban areas.  So, in order to make the most efficient use of the limited supply of parking, you need to manage it well and “spread” the demand for parking.  

Everyone would love to park in that one space that is closest to their destination.  However, obviously, not everyone can.  While short-term parkers – shoppers, diners, or people visiting a museum or other attraction – are often unwilling to park more than a few blocks from their destination, longer-term parkers – workers in the area or people who plan to spend the entire day there – are often willing to walk a few more blocks to and from their destination, especially if the cost to park all day is less at those other parking options.  If parking meter rates are correct, they should help with that equation.  Parking meter rates should be set so that, relative to off-street parking options, they are a bargain for parking stays of 4 hours or less, but are more expensive than off-street parking for stays of 5 hours or more.  When parking meter rates are, in that way, correct, longer-term parkers will park off-street, thereby freeing close and convenient on-street parking spaces for shorter-term parkers.  It is through that smart use of parking meters that a city’s total parking resources (on-street; off-street; public; and private) are most fully realized, and that’s good for everyone. 

OK, so you still may not LIKE to pay the parking meter (really, who does?), but now you can love that the parking meter is there because you know it helped you find the parking space in the first place. 

Pete Little, Executive Director, PABC