Outriders on three-wheeled electric chariots are descending on Lexington's downtown.
Starting next week, the outriders, full-time parking enforcement officers, will begin ticketing vehicles illegally parked at parking meters or in residential permit zones.
“We're really excited about it,” said Harold Tate, executive director and president of the Downtown Development Authority. “One of the things that retailers and the residents said is we need to get parking under control because people who work downtown, they feed the meters all day and then shoppers don't have any place to park when they come downtown just to go to lunch.”
The increased parking enforcement should free up spaces at parking meters, thus making downtown friendlier to shoppers, Tate said. “When people come downtown it's only for two to four hours. … When there's not a meter to park at, it discourages them from coming downtown.”
The goal of Lexpark, a parking enforcement program of the Lexington & Fayette County Parking Authority, is to increase the turnover of parking spaces for downtown visitors, said Gary Means, executive director of the parking authority.
Currently, some people feed the same meter all day because at 25 cents an hour, it's cheaper than parking at a garage or a surface lot. Others park and pay, but allow the meter to expire before returning to their vehicles. Some simply park at expired meters and walk away.
People park illegally because parking enforcement in Lexington has been lax for several years. It has not been a major priority of Lexington police because of the department's workload and focus on other criminal activity, Means said.
The parking authority's goal is to achieve an 85 percent street parking occupancy at any one time. With the 1,100 parking meters downtown and around the University of Kentucky, a visitor should be able to find an empty parking space about every 10 parking meters, Means said.
“There are people who have come in and circled the block a few times and couldn't find a space, and that was their experience in downtown,” Means said. “We're hoping to give those individuals a shot.”
The first step in making that a reality is to change the parking culture in downtown, Means said.
For the next three months, the first parking ticket issued to a vehicle will be a warning so that people can get used to consistent enforcement, Means said. “You need to pay the meters. You need to park properly or you will be receiving the tickets.”
The second ticket will incur a $15 fine. If the fine isn't paid within 10 days, it doubles to $30.
Besides issuing tickets, the outriders will serve as ambassadors for Lexington, handing out information on parking and places to eat and shop, Means said.
The parking authority also plans to actively collect unpaid parking fines. Currently, people owe the city a little more than $800,000 in unpaid parking fines.
By the end of July, people will be able to pay their parking tickets online at the Lexpark Web site, Means said.
The increased parking enforcement will be great for Lexington, said Renee Jackson, executive director of Downtown Lexington Corp. “It's been a long time coming. The loss of revenue to the city is significant because we haven't been doing enforcement.”
The parking authority, which was created in 2005, is charged with maintaining and operating public parking in Lexington. The parking authority is responsible for parking meters, enforcement, towing and setting parking rates. It will also eventually take over operation of the city's parking garages.