The city can make it easier to park downtown by changing meter rates in response to demand. Parking spaces that are almost always full should be more expensive, and spaces that are usually empty should be cheaper. The city should aim to make the price of parking as low as it can be, while ensuring that at least one space is always available on each block. This will make it easier to find on-street parking, reduce traffic from people looking for parking spots, and allow the city to eliminate parking time limits. This idea has been successful in other cities like San Fransisco, and Ann Arbor already has most of the necessary equipment for a similar system.
The city’s Downtown Development Authority operates and maintains 2200 on-street parking meters. It contracts with Republic Parking, a private company, to manage the system. Rates are set by the board of the Downtown Development Authority. On-street rates are usually the same, regardless of the location of the meter or the time of day. During busy periods, there is no parking available on certain blocks. Drivers looking for spots cause traffic congestion. A study from UCLA suggests that roughly 30% of traffic in a city is caused by people looking for parking.
Switching to variable-rate parking
The DDA uses electronic meters made by a a company called Digital Payment Technologies. The meters are capable of variable rate parking. Prices can be changed remotely over the internet.
In order to switch to variable rates, the DDA needs to collect data on how many spaces are open on each block during each hour of the day. This information can be gathered remotely with sensors on the pavement.
The DDA can adjust rates in response to the data. On blocks where more than 15% of the spots are open, rates should be lowered. On blocks where less than 15% of the spots are open, rates should be raised. This will ensure that there is always an open parking spot on every block, and that parking is not unnecessarily expensive. Rates should only be adjusted once a month, with a maximum change each month, so that drivers have a rough sense of how much parking will cost.
This video for the San Fransisco parking system shows how variable rates work.