ITHACA, NY – Ithaca’s last parking system change had its critics, but the city is now considering parking changes that may annoy downtown commuters but will save city taxpayers’ money.

These may include extending paid parking times further into the evening, extending paid parking to the weekends, or turning currently free-to-park areas into paid spots.

Here’s the situation, as explained by Ithaca Chief of Staff Dan Cogan:

The city currently run about a $800,000 annual budget deficit to subsidize parking. In the coming decade or so, necessary renovations for the city’s parking garages could extend that number to more than $2 million a year.

That money has to come from somewhere, and the city’s logic in considering these changes is that the entire burden shouldn’t fall on City of Ithaca taxpayers.

These ideas were presented to Ithaca’s Common Council on Wednesday. Cogan stated that there were concerns voiced, the council generally seemed in favor of exploring solutions to make parking pay for itself. He also noted that these ideas, if any are implemented at all, will still be a long time and many discussions away.

“There were concerns that parking is necessity for many people and it’s already expensive, and if we charge more it may make it even harder for people,” Cogan said. “But that was offset by the idea that somebody has to pay for the parking, and if it’s not being paid for by people who are using the parking, it’s being paid by everyone who’s not using it. If we don’t make parking pay for itself, it means people’s taxes are higher and living in the city is even less affordable.”

Cogan said that while getting parking to actually pay for itself entirely may not be possible or even desirable — many cities subsidize parking to some degree to support a healthy downtown — but at the same time the city didn’t want to subsidize parking to the tune of $2 million a year.

“It’s a good problem to have in a way, that people want to come downtown or to Collegetown,” Cogan said. “It means that we’re doing a good job and giving people reasons to come to the city and we want to continue giving them reasons to come and support the vitality of our downtown.”

Possibilites and impacts

Here’s an overview of some of the possibilities:

  • extending weekday paid parking times into the evening (currently, on-street parking is free after 6 p.m. and garage parking is free after 8 p.m.)
  • extending paid parking into the weekends (currently, parking is free on the weekend)
  • extending the areas that are pay-to-park, such as turning areas that are currently two-hour free parking into paid parking areas
  • implementing a residential parking permit program in more areas of the city

Cogan said that the first new policy the city might try would be extending the evening paid hours, possibly up to 11 p.m. rather than 6 p.m.

Asked about the potential impact this might have on people commuting into the city from the outlying towns or other counties, Cogan paraphrased Mayor Svante Myrick, who noted during the council meeting that people living in the city often have lower incomes than people in some outlying towns like Lansing or the Town of Ithaca.

“So right now, the lower income people are subsidizing the people who make more money, so if we can make the people who are using it pay for it, I think that’s a good thing,” Cogan said. Even for lower-income people outside of the town, Cogan said the consensus is that city residents shouldn’t have to pay for parking they aren’t necessarily using.

However, he did indicate that the city could consider a more targeted solution for low-income people.

“Rather than just keeping the cost of parking artificially low for everybody, we could be much more targeted in how we address the needs of people who need to park and simply can’t afford it,” Cogan said.

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.