Wilmington’s fine-est hour: Parking trends in a growing downtown

Parking in Wilmington

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - The stretch of Front Street between Orange and Grace streets is the epicenter for Wilmington’s Central Business District.

Those handful of blocks and the dozens of metered spaces that line them also bring in the vast majority of parking tickets.

From June 1, 2013 to June 21, 2018, the city issued 123,626 parking tickets for expired meters, overtime parking, or facing the wrong direction.

Those tickets generated $2,704,560 — if they were paid on time — making parking management a significant line item in the city’s financial reports.

Management

Parking services are contracted out to Lanier Parking, a company based in Atlanta, and have been for the last several years. On Tuesday, Dec. 4, Wilmington City Council members voted unanimously to renew the contract for an additional 12 months to the tune of $1.4 million.

Lanier handles the day to day operations of the city’s parking decks, public lots, and on-street parking meters. Lanier employees staff the booths, issue the tickets, and digest the funds and data that result.

While Lanier manages parking services, City Parking Manager Chance Dunbar explained it’s the city that actually collects fines and fees.

“City of Wilmington contracts out the city services to Lanier," Dunbar said. “They’re essentially our contractor on [the] street to enforce the city codes and city ordinances that are parking related.”

With the contract extension, Lanier will be bringing improved technology to the city’s parking decks. At the Dec. 5 council meeting, council members asked about the potential for new on-street technology, but Dunbar said nothing was in the works.

Starting in January 2019, parking rates will increase by $0.25 to $1.50 per hour for on-street parking. However, the public decks will offer 90 minutes of free parking downtown instead of just one hour.

Lanier is also assisting with work to repair damage from Hurricane Florence to some parking facilities.

Types of tickets

Expired parking meters were the most common violations over the last few years with more than 81,000.
Expired parking meters were the most common violations over the last few years with more than 81,000.

The bright orange rectangular envelopes appear on the windshields of vehicles for a wide variety of reasons, but most of them have to do with parking somewhere for too long.

Of the tickets issued, 81,961 or 66.2 percent were for expired meters. Overtime parking in public lots came in second with 14,073 or 11.4 percent. And while the fees are the lowest at just $20 when paid on time, those violations brought in $1,639,220 and $281,460 respectively — more than half of the total.

Other frequent violations were parking in “No Parking” zones, facing the opposite direction of the traffic flow and parking outside of the space.

Parking in a commercial loading zone, staying in a taxi stand past midnight, or blocking a fire hydrant also brought in several hundred thousand dollars in fine revenue.

Downtown

Dunbar said it is easy to understand why nearly all parking tickets are issued in the downtown area, as nearly all of the city’s parking meters and public parking lots are located in those few blocks. There were tickets issued in areas along Carolina Beach Road or College Road, but in those cases vehicles were blocking fire hydrants, clearly outside the space or facing the wrong way.

Parking rates are set to go up in 2019 (Source: WECT).
Parking rates are set to go up in 2019 (Source: WECT).

As the downtown area continues to grow, Dunbar said his department will have to adjust. In fact, he said he and his team are already re-evaluating what the parking landscape will look like once the River Place condominium project is completed and the North Waterfront Park is put in. Those projects, which should be in place in the next two years, will change the demand for parking downtown and could create new hot-spots.

“We’re kind of in an in-between stage in terms of scoping out the work needed," he said.

Those changes necessitated the extension of Lanier’s contract, rather than a new five-year agreement.

Additionally, Dunbar said, the changing landscape of downtown has led to his department issuing a request for proposal for a parking consulting firm.

Unlike Lanier, which will continue to handle day-to-day operations, this new contractor would be in charge of long-term planning, aggregating data and establishing trends.

That way, Dunbar said, the city will know how to move forward.

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