Illustration by Cierra Pedro

Why It Costs More to Park Downtown

Riled about rising Downtown parking rates? Blame your bartender, the City says.

Last month, the City of Las Vegas rezoned all of Downtown’s street parking. It was a sweeping and comprehensive remake that created “premium” and “supplemental” parking zones; introduced two new apps (Parkmobile, for street spots, and PassportParking, for paid lots) that enable users to feed parking meters remotely; and even removed metered parking from some 91 spaces, most of them in the so-called Lawyer’s Row neighborhood south of Fremont Street.

Not surprisingly, most people have zeroed in on the “premium zone” bit, and with good reason: Premium-zone meter hours—formerly a variety of start and end times from Monday through Saturday—were standardized to 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, and hourly rates for those meters jumped from $1 to $2. If you’re unsure where the premium zone is, use this simple mnemonic device: It’s pretty much everywhere you’d prefer to park in Downtown.

“One [goal] is to use the excess money to fund the construction of parking structures. We’re trying to support economic development and business Downtown.”

Shortly after the rezoning was implemented April 6, local social media was flooded with angry commentary. Some accused Mayor Carolyn Goodman and other City officials of price gauging in retaliation for the lack of public support for the failed soccer stadium project; some spun even more elaborate theories, such as accusing the Downtown Project—owner of several paid lots along the Fremont East corridor—of working in collusion with the City.

The truth, City parking manager Brandy Stanley says, is the changes are tied to the City taking complete control of its parking spots (or, as Stanley calls them, “assets”). “Parking used to be run by five different departments. Now we’re all under one department, and we’re looking at how we can better serve the community,” Stanley says. “The City decided to do this in-house, because they wanted to retain control of the assets to make sure they’re better managed, instead of selling them off to a private entity that’s only interested in squeezing money out of them.”

And re-allocating Downtown’s curb space—a finite resource—was by the City’s reckoning an unavoidable part of that management strategy. Stanley gives an example: “You don’t want those two meter spaces in front of La Comida to be taken up all the time by the bartenders who work in La Comida. I want you to be able to park there, because [you’re] going in there to spend money,” Stanley says. “So we reduced some of the hours and days of enforcement two blocks away from La Comida, and we sell permits there. But as a couple to that, we had to make it more expensive to park in that space in front of La Comida.”

Ironically, it was the parking meters themselves that informed the City’s strategy.

“With the new meters, [we] can do an analysis of the transactions: when they’re happening, by the day, by the month, down to the hour and the minute of the day, in each of those spaces,” Stanley says. “If you have access to that information it’s easy to figure out where you’re seeing a trend.”

The first trend Stanley and her department noticed: Transactions on the streets closest to Fremont East peaked at 4 p.m.—two hours before enforcement stopped on a two-hour meter. “Who do you think is parking at 4 p.m.?” Stanley says. “They’d pay $2 for two hours of parking, and they could stay there the entire night.”

Stanley says she’s received mostly positive feedback to the changes; in reality, she’s probably referring to the parking apps, which are actually quite useful. “One of the biggest complaints before was if you got two hours of parking and you needed to extend it, you couldn’t do it without physically going back to the meter,” she says. “The pay-by-cellphone [option] has fixed that.”

All of which naturally leads to the question: Where does all this money go? Stanley insists it’s not going to the Downtown Project, or to pay off the failed stadium, but rather it’s keeping the parking division afloat. “This year we [finally] got to a point where we’re not taking money from the general fund to cover ourselves,” she says. “We’re pretty proud of that.”

The next inevitable step, of course, is going vertical. “Since we’re part of the Economic Development Department, one [goal] is to use the excess money to fund the construction of parking structures,” Stanley says. “We’re trying to support economic development and business Downtown.”

Vegas Seven