Parking garage in downtown Asheville
Asheville is raising its daily maximum parking rate at its garages, along with city meter rates. This downtown garage is located near the Civic Center and Pack Library. Frank Taylor / Carolina Public Press

One North Carolina city is rapidly increasing its parking fees at a time when most other major cities across the state have not posted substantial increases in parking charges in years.

Although hourly rates in Asheville’s parking garages will remain the same, the daily maximum charge increased July 1 from $10 to $12. In another change, the first hour of parking in one of the city’s 1,437 garage spaces will now be free only if customers stay less than an hour.

This year’s changes follow a boost in parking meter charges in 2017, which rose a quarter from $1.25 to $1.50 per hour.

What cities across NC are doing

With fees ranging from $1.50 to $1.75 for metered locations throughout the city, Chapel Hill features the most expensive of the state’s 15 largest cities, followed by Asheville and Durham.

The state’s two most populous cities, Charlotte and Raleigh, both charge $1 at metered spaces, as do Winston-Salem and Fayetteville.

Though the parking deck hike following last year’s parking meter increase marks Asheville’s second parking fee increase in two years, other larger cities have kept their rates the same for decades.

According to Amy Mitchell, Charlotte Department of Transportation media and strategic communications manager, Charlotte has not increased fees for on-street public parking since 1997, when the city implemented the Park It! program, operating more than 1,300 spaces.

Local reaction

According to Asheville’s 2018-19 Operating Budget, the City Council approved the fee increases to help balance the city’s annual budget. In theory, the $96,000 in estimated additional revenue could relieve the property tax burden. The funds will be used to maintain public parking facilities.

In a city where many residents have come from parts of the country where public parking comes at a premium cost, Asheville’s fee levels don’t necessarily seem unreasonable.

That’s the case for Kevin Gentry, an architect and building contractor living in Asheville, with whom Carolina Public Press talked about the increases. Gentry said he is accustomed to higher rates in larger cities and feels Asheville’s rates are appropriate.

“It certainly feels like users of Asheville’s parking garage spaces are getting a bargain,” he said.

Even so, repeated increases do raise residents’ concerns.

“When one begins to see yearly increases from a municipality, it has the potential to make citizens sit up and pay attention to the justification put forth by those in charge,” Gentry said.

Public parking outsourcing

Though Charlotte owns its spaces, the day-to-day operations are outsourced to Republic Parking, a private company operating in more than 240 cities across North America.

“When (Charlotte) introduced the on-street parking program, city leaders wanted to help ensure the success of the program by contracting with a consultant whose expertise was municipal parking management,” Mitchell said.

“As the program has developed, the city has found that the variety of skill sets necessary to run an efficient operation are best handled through a professional parking company.”

Cities have varying experiences with outsourced parking, and some are moving away from the concept.

Raleigh regained control of its public parking in 2010 after a decade of outsourcing. According to Raleigh’s ParkLink website, this move was to provide better customer service.

Gentry, an architect and contractor, said he understands the costs associated with public parking but would still like Asheville to maintain ownership.

Studying options to meet transportation needs

Asheville resident Jay Reese  has been an outspoken critic of the volume of cars in Asheville on social media platforms. He told Carolina Public Press that he agreed the city should not outsource its parking. Reese said he would rather see the city spend money to cut down on parking, instead of accommodating the growing need.

“It’s unfortunate that people have to pay more, but is it fair their personal choice harms the community through congestion, noise, pollution, death and injury, and that drivers are not charged enough to cover the damage shared by the community?” Reese said.

“It is my hope the city installs a computerized congestion-pricing system on all the roads leading into the city center. This would encourage people to seek alternative methods.”

Many North Carolina cities have conducted parking studies to better understand wants such as these.

When Concord completed its parking study, the city found it controlled 30 percent of parking and identified a need for more space. As a result, a new parking deck is now under construction.

“I recommend parking studies,” said Diane Young, who headed the Concord parking study. “What you can measure, you can manage.”

Young said there are no fees for public parking in Concord, just strictly enforced time limits. Among other large cities, Cary and Gastonia also offer free parking, though their spaces are more limited than the 2,300 provided in Concord, which far exceed the number in several larger cities, such as Asheville with 2,100 garage and metered spaces, and Charlotte with 1,300.

Most of North Carolina’s biggest cities own and operate fewer than 5,000 public parking spaces. The exception is Jacksonville’s 43,500 spaces, which are available for 50 cents an hour.

The issue of providing more parking in Asheville is a constant one. Last fall, the City Council lifted a ban to create new gravel lots.

The issue is not one-sided. Both Reese and Gentry said they believe there is enough parking downtown.

“As unscientific as this may sound, right now it feels as though Asheville is doing a good job providing new parking at a rate that is keeping pace with the number of cars in downtown,” Gentry said.

“I have not experienced any difficulty in finding parking downtown in several years.”

For more information

Asheville announces 2018 increase:

Why Asheville city management said fees needed to go up:

Charlotte parking:

Raleigh parking:

Greensboro parking:

Durham parking:

Winston-Salem parking:

Fayetteville parking:

Wilmington parking:

Greenville, NC, parking:

Concord parking:

Gastonia parking:

Jacksonville parking:

Chapel Hill parking:

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