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Free Parking Transition Continues in City

Sarasota City Commission set parking enforcement hours while also considering getting its money back for the electronic pay stations.

Free Parking Transition Continues in City

Drivers can expect to see parking enforcement  hours soon in three areas of Sarasota.

Parking enforcement in downtown as well as Hillview's Southside Village and St. Armands Circle will see parking limits enforced from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, once signs are installed posting the change.

The decision came Monday by the city commission as commission members discussed The commission also discussed a potential settlement with the pay station vendor, parking fines and a the role of a parking committee.

The signs will cost $8,500, according to Mark Lyons, parking manager for the city.

There was a proposal as well to only have downtown's hours set, but that didn't sit well with commissioners. "I do think there's an inequity," Commissioner Shannon Snyder said, if downtown would have been enforced while St. Armands and Southside Village also face similar parking issues where spaces are hard to find. The point of enforcement is to encourage turnover of spaces, Lyons said.

Long-term parking downtown is offered in the and the State Street lot. Overall, the city enforces 2,500 timed spaces throughout the city and 9,500 un-timed marked spaces.

A brief study of parking behaviors during the free parking switch shows that the streets are still packed from 5:30 to 8 p.m., often seeing 100 percent utilization, Lyons said.

Parking Meter Settlement

The city is also considering a settlement and potential litigation to get money back for the electronic parking meters supplied by Milwaukee-based Duncan solutions.

"I think you should negotiate a settlement and tell them at least one commissioner would approve legal action," Turner said. The other four commissioners said or signaled they would support such an action, as well.

Overall, the city spent about $600,000 on new meters for the paid parking program, and Turner argued that the equipment supplied by Duncan was essentially defective.

While the user experience has been much of the debate, the city's finance director Chris Lyons said on the back-end trying to settle credit card payments between the merchant processor, the meter's software, the city and credit card companies was hard to match up.

Some credit card payments took a week to settle, which is unusual, he said, but the wireless transactions that the meter conducted complicated that given the encryption needed for the sales.

"They didn't seem to be very helpful on some problems, and they didn't have total knowledge on some of this help," he said.

Chris Lyons added that other cities he checked with that used the Duncan meters didn't turn up issues other than user interface complaints.

Business leaders have also suggested a software upgrade could be performed to fix the meters issues, but whether that could be done remains unknown, he said. 

Parking Fines and Committee

The city is also working to develop a parking advisory board to look at parking strategies across Sarasota, Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown said.

The committee could be tasked with looking at the fine structure.

Vice Mayor Terry Turner said he felt the punishment hasn't been stiff enough to get the message across that if you need to park for more than two or three hours, use the Palm Avenue Garage.

"You get one or two changes and the third strike should be pretty painful," he said. The city did revise its structure last year, where a cap of $50 in fines is placed, said Capt. Jeff Karr of the Sarasota Police Department's Parking Services Division.

Once that cap is met and hasn't been paid, the driver goes on the scofflaw list where they cannot renew their vehicle registration, Mark Lyons said. 

A parking ticket costs $25 for going over the posted time and a late fee costs $10, he said. Event Parking The commission also gave direction to Lyons to bundle the price for parking with special event fees to avoid organizations and companies to be hit with two bills.

Receiving two invoices days or weeks apart has rubbed some event organizers the wrong way, Mark Lyons said.

A consideration to charge the public for use of the Palm Avenue Garage during a special event and defining a special event was shot down.

Also related to the Palm Avenue Garage, the city will have to refund about $21,000 in refunds for parking permits there, and another $10,000 for surface lot permits, Lyons said, due to the switch to free parking.

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