The City of Flagstaff’s downtown parking program is set to resume after nearly a year on hiatus, creating questions about how the gap in parking enforcement has affected everything from program revenue to local business.
Not much has changed, according to ParkFlag employees, but there are a few differences visitors can expect moving forward.
ParkFlag’s kiosk service was initially suspended in March of last year to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 through the usage of shared surfaces. But, after considering pandemic-related financial concerns, Flagstaff City Council decided to extend the suspension until March 1, 2021.
That date is quickly approaching, leaving the city’s ParkFlag team with much to prepare before the relaunch. For starters, parking managers implemented a few community suggestions into downtown parking policy.
ParkFlag managers said the changes were agreed upon after discussions with city planners, the Downtown Business Alliance, business owners and the public. The changes were approved by the city council.
According to a media release, the program’s pay-to-park schedule was shortened to reflect when “parking management was needed most.” In other words, it looks to address peak periods when customers are most likely to access downtown businesses.
New pay-to-park hours will be in effect Sunday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Friday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. The cost of an employee parking permit was also decreased by more than 75% to $10 per month.
“These changes will benefit the public, employees and businesses, and we will remain a self-sustaining program,” ParkFlag manager Gail Brockman said.
After the city announced the relaunch of the program on social media, many commenters expressed concern that paid parking would discourage business. The ParkFlag team, however, contends that parking management is a necessary tool to support a vibrant downtown area.
“With unmanaged parking all day long, we have seen parking become stagnant, and once again there is a need for management. The lack of parking is currently a deterrent for customers looking to support downtown business,” Community Investment Director David McIntire said.
At various points over the last year, Brockman said, parking aides conducted counts of occupied spaces that showed between 70% to 90% occupancy depending on the time of day. Instead of being occupied by customers, many of those occupants were found to be long-period parkers, such residents, students or employees.
Carryout zones are one aspect of the program that will remain the same, providing customers the opportunity to receive carry-out food or conduct short-term business without paying for parking.
Brockman said curbside pickup is “essential to adapting to the pandemic” as it benefits both the customer and the business. The program is currently managing 15 to 20 carry-out zones at any given time -- which can be relocated based on the business community's requests.
ParkFlag employees have kept busy over the last couple of months, whether freshening up red curbs downtown or updating the kiosk software program.
Now that the relaunch is just one week away, parking aides are making sure that the kiosks are in working order. Preparations had to be done at each individual kiosk before they could be cleared for daily use.
Parking aides spent the last two weeks individually testing each kiosk with a transaction in preparation for un-hooding to take place on the 28th. The ParkFlag team will spend the entire day removing the protective hoods that covered the closed kiosks and sanitizing them for use.
Kiosks are the primary method of payment but not the only option for downtown commuters. Those who do not wish to share a public surface will have the option to utilize the FlowBird parking app, which is a contactless way to pay for parking. ParkFlag plans to promote contactless parking registration as a safer alternative once the program picks back up.
ParkFlag is modeled to be both a self-sustaining program and a means of generating funds for future downtown parking infrastructure. The suspension certainly affected the ability to fund future parking projects, but not as severely as the projected $100,000 a month loss might imply.
Over the course of the closure, the program was able to avoid dipping into funds put away for future downtown parking improvements. That lump sum remains at about $700,0000, which is roughly the same as where it left off.
The program allocates about 20% of total revenue to parking infrastructure and currently has projects in the works to bring additional parking downtown.
“While we would have more resources if there had not been a pandemic-based suspension, we are still planning on moving forward with the addition of two surface lots this spring and have hopes for a parking garage in the near future,” McIntire said.
With services halted, ParkFlag was able to cut costs by reducing both spending and staffing. Brockman said the program was “lucky” to have a few staff members leave just prior to the pandemic, allowing them to hold off on filling those positions until spring or summer of 2021.
An annual report on program operations in the 2018-19 fiscal year showed that paid parking generated $1,518,725 in total revenue. Of that sum, $303,745 was put away for parking infrastructure while the remainder was used for operating costs, employee salary and credit card fees.