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Inlet parking spaces left vacant by unexpected early departures

(July 12, 2013) Despite fears that the new $50 flat rate would drive patrons away, Fourth of July parking at the city’s inlet lot appears to have gone better than expected from a business standpoint – although the lot did end up somewhat under-utilized due to unexpected departures.

“We figured that, if you’re going to spend $50 on parking, you’re going to stay for the fireworks,” said Public Works Director Hal Adkins. “But apparently some people don’t.”

The plan to charge a flat rate was approved earlier this year by City Council at the suggestion of City Engineer Terry McGean, who was looking for a way to solve the traffic back up that typically follows the city’s Independence Day fireworks.

While visitors typically trickle in gradually during the morning to spend time on the beach and Boardwalk before the evening fireworks, they all leave at the same time once the show is over. Further, because the inlet lot charges by the hour – with patrons taking a time stamp ticket upon entry and paying upon exit – leaving creates more congestion than entering.

By having patrons stop and pay a flat rate upon entry, difficulty exiting the lot itself would be – and was, by all accounts – reduced. Further, patrons were not paying for time spent waiting to leave the lot. However, downtown traffic outside the lot was reportedly heavy on July 4, cancelling out some of the advantage.

According to Adkins, all 1,187 spaces in the lot were sold by 11:17 a.m. on the Fourth, and city staff were able to park another 46 cars in a parallel fashion along the edge of the lot.

But by the time the evening rolled around, the city was apparently facing complaints from nearby Boardwalk business owners that up to 300 spaces – a quarter of the lot – were actually vacant.

This was due, presumably, to patrons that paid the flat rate in the morning but left in the afternoon. After the lot filled in the morning, city attendants left and were not there to fill vacated spaces throughout the day.

“We were not manned to re-sell those spaces,” Adkins said. “We had no reason to think that people would pay and then leave. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would’ve expected that to occur. But we’re obviously looking into fixing it next year.”

The $50 rate decided on by City Council was also a major bone of public contention leading up to the holiday, given the increase in cost for the average visitor. Assuming that most Fourth of July patrons park in the morning for the beach and Boardwalk activities and do not leave until the fireworks’ conclusion – roughly a 12-hour span – the average cost per car would otherwise be $36 at the normal weekend and holiday parking rate of $3 per hour.

But with enough people willing to pay to fill 1,233 spaces, it appears that the rate hike is worth the convenience.

“When people are on vacation, I think the most important thing to them is their time,” Mayor Rick Meehan said this week.

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