The rollout of Flagstaff’s new pay-to-park program went off without any major glitches this weekend, even as downtown received a deluge of visitors with the monthly ArtWalk, parents weekend at Northern Arizona University and a packed schedule of other events.
“It went really, really well,” said Karl Eberhard, interim parking manager for the city. “I heard great comments. When I was walking up and down the street, people were stopping me and saying, ‘This is great, glad you're doing it.’”
Revenues from the first three days of implementation are on track with the city’s projections, which were that the program will generate $1 million in annual revenues to support program operations and fund new parking infrastructure downtown, Eberhard said.
That sunny review of the ParkFlag program wasn’t shared by all, however. Several people who were paying to park Monday morning weren’t happy about the new $1-per-hour parking charge or said the program’s rollout could have been done better.
Flagstaff resident Kiya Dandena said the new charge means he will likely visit downtown less, while local Carla Sharp said the “convenience factor” is lacking in the pay to park process.
“We’re used to free so anything is going to be an inconvenience,” her husband, Bill, added as the two paid at a kiosk before heading to lunch.
Noting that she had seen many people stumped by the kiosks, Carla Sharp said the city could have done a better job of informing people about how to navigate them and about the official start date.
They both said they would have liked for the program to have included deals that would make parking more affordable for locals.
The new parking charges were a bummer for tourists Leslie Kuntz and her husband Steve, who were visiting from Cottonwood.
“To come spend money and then spend more money, yeah,” Leslie Kuntz said.
Phoenix resident and NAU alumnus Philip Valentine described the parking kiosk as "annoying," but "easy enough to use."
Other tourists were more amenable to the idea of paid parking.
Laura Dougherty, who was visiting from Phoenix, said that being from the East Coast she is used to paying for parking. Shane Tate, a tourist from Tennessee, also didn’t have a problemwith the cost, although figuring out the kiosk was “a little confusing,” he said.
It took him two tries and help from a Downtown Business Alliance staffer before his transaction went through.
Terry Madeksza, executive director of the Flagstaff Downtown Business Alliance, said business owners were appreciative that even on a busy weekend their customers were able to find a place to park.
"To have customer parking available and to have turnover really seemed to help with patrons coming downtown to support businesses," Madeksza said.
Other business owners said the parking program has generally been a source of confusion for customers.
Jessica Garnello, the manager at Crystal Magic, said people didn’t know how the machines worked and wondered about paper receipts, which the kiosks only print upon request. Because the program is tied to a driver’s license plate, the tickets aren’t necessary for proof of payment, Eberhard said. The transaction will go through even if people don’t choose to print a ticket, he said.
Carolyn Young, who owns West of the Moon art gallery, said her perception of ParkFlag is that “everyone is really confused.” It’s also a problem for some people that the kiosks don’t take cash because they don’t want to put the parking app on their smartphones and worry that using their credit card will put them at risk of getting hacked, Young said.
Those who want to pay cash can do so at Flagstaff City Hall, the visitors center in the train station and participating businesses displaying the "Park Flag Cash Accepted Here" window cling.
Sutcliffe Floral owner Kelly Tulloss said she worried sometimes about how the new parking could hurt her business, but at the moment she is more focused on finding parking for her employees.
"Everyone is getting here a little earlier so they don't have to pay for parking," Tulloss said. "The parking hasn't really affected our business and I hope it doesn't"
The most anger is coming from locals, some of whom have told her they won’t be coming downtown anymore, Young said.
“Something had to be done,” she said. “But I think this is too complicated.”
For employees of downtown businesses, it’s frustrating having to pay in order to park for work, said Beck Louis, who works at Firecreek Coffee.
Artists Sarah Walker and Karen Myers, who were staffing The Artists Gallery on Monday morning, said they are still unclear about where they are supposed to park with employee permits. They were also skeptical about ParkFlag’s business model.
Walker said she isn’t confident the revenues will go to something that will be a solution for parking downtown and wants to see citizens get to vote on where the money goes.
Myers critiqued the fact that the program only guarantees 20 percent of revenues will be set aside to build or buy more parking spaces. That it could require 80 percent of total revenues to run the program is “nuts” and “not fiscally responsible,” she said.