Fayette County

Raise in parking-meter rates put off till January

The cost to park at a downtown Lexington meter will be going up from 25 cents to $1 an hour, but the price jump has been delayed until January.

The increase was approved by the Lexington & Fayette County Parking Authority in April and expected to take effect Oct. 1. But because of "delivery and installation issues" with several hundred new meters the authority has ordered, the increase had to be delayed, said board member James Frazier.

"We knew from the day we were appointed that Lexington was way under other cities' parking rates," said Kenton Ball, parking authority chairman.

"We didn't want to increase the rates until we increased parking enforcement so there were more parking spaces available, and until we got new parking meters so people can use their credit cards," Ball said.

The last time meter fees increased was 1984 when the cost went from a nickel to 25 cents an hour, said Gary Means, the authority's executive director.

The delay until January was approved Wednesday at the monthly meeting of the parking authority.

Nearly 1,000 downtown meters will charge $1 an hour. About 200 will charge 50 cents an hour.

"We don't think our customers will mind paying a dollar, because they can actually find a place to park now," said Gene Williams, owner of Natasha's Café on the Esplanade.

Earlier this summer, five parking enforcers in three-wheel chariots started patrolling downtown streets, ticketing people who park at street meters all day. They also have been diligent in ticketing cars parked on expired meters.

"We're rejoicing because they've solved a negative branding of downtown that parking was a problem," Williams said. People who work downtown were pushed into off-street lots. "Now customers doing business on a short-term basis can find a place to park."

Authority board member Dee Dee Harbut worried that with the downturn in the economy and the recent survey of Lexington residents' somewhat negative perceptions of downtown, this was not the time to raise parking fees.

However, board member Leonard Cox said most cities with a population of 100,000 or more have higher hourly rates than Lexington.

The hourly parking rate in Cincinnati, Columbus and Philadelphia is $1; in Memphis and Denver it's $4; and in West Palm Beach, Fla., it's $6. In Louisville, the hourly rate is 50 cents, according to information provided by the parking authority.

Parking meter revenue goes toward paying off the annual $700,000-plus bond payment issued for the Transit Center parking garage, Means said. Currently, parking fees cover about $200,000 of that amount. The remaining $500,000 comes from the city's general fund.

"Our goal is to have no general fund money go to the transit bond," he said.

Voting to delay the increase until January were Cox and Frazier. Harbut cast the one vote against the motion, saying she was opposed to any increase at this time.

Also on Wednesday, five new computerized pay stations were being installed downtown and around the University of Kentucky. One pay station will take the place of about 10 meters. Drivers can pay for parking with cash or a credit or debit card.

Eventually, the city will have 50 pay stations, replacing several hundred 1950s style parking meters, Means said.