Residents react to hourly Montgomery County parking rate increase -- Gazette.Net


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Craig Smith said he plans to start taking the bus instead of paying for parking in downtown Silver Spring three times a week.

The Silver Spring resident said he parked in the Fenton Street garage at 8:43 a.m. on Wednesday morning. When he paid for his ticket at 11:53 a.m., he was charged $3. He said he might start parking at Westfield Wheaton shopping mall for free and take the bus into Silver Spring for $1.60.

“It's not good,” Smith said of the price hike, noting that he was charged another dollar for just 10 minutes past the hour. “I might as well pay the meter. There's no benefit now.”

The Montgomery County Council approved a short-term parking fee increase of 25 cents bringing the cost of a four-hour stop to $1 per hour. The long-term parking fee increased by 5 cents an hour from 60 to 65 cents per hour. The increases went into effect in Silver Spring and North Bethesda on Jan. 1.

Parking Convenience Stickers, which allow patrons to pre-pay for a month of parking in the county-owned garages, were increased from $113 per month to $123 in both areas on Jan. 1.

Rick Siebert, chief of the county's Department of Transportation's parking management division, said the parking rates are typically set annually by the Montgomery County Council in conjunction with approving the coming fiscal year's budget.

He said the price hike is expected to generate $350,000 of additional revenue in Silver Spring in the first fiscal year. In future years where there is a whole year reflected, Siebert said it will generate about $700,000.

Owings Mills resident Jonathan Staten said Wednesday was his second time parking in Silver Spring. Last time, Staten said parking was free, and noted there is a lot of free parking where he lives.

“To be honest, It's really not that bad,” Staten said. “[But] I know how certain people are with money, so it would definitely have an impact to some degree.”

The price change is reflected in all 11,648 county-run parking spots in garages, lots and street meters in Silver Spring, as well as 875 spaces in North Bethesda located in one parking lot and at street meters, Siebert said. He said that all facilities have free spaces reserved for people with disabilities, but said he is not aware of any free parking in the central business district of Silver Spring.

Siebert said the parking lot district of Silver Spring is an enterprise separate from the general fund of county government, meaning that parking facilities are funded separately. Fees were determined after council looked at a long-term fiscal picture of the enterprise fund that is used to operate and maintain facilities, Siebert said. In North Bethesda, the fees go to the mass transit fund, which supports the RideOn bus system as part of a transportation management system, Siebert said.

“My expectation is that these rates are still very low comparable to many areas,” Siebert said.

Becky Linafelt of Takoma Park said she had parked in the Wayne Avenue garage in downtown Silver Spring before Wednesday morning, noting it is still free on evenings and weekends.

“Compared to a lot of parking possibilities, it still remains affordable,” Linafelt said, noting the price change would not affect how often she comes to Silver Spring.

Last year Siebert said there was only a 10-cent increase in long-term parking and no increase in the short-term rate. Still, Siebert said he does not expect the price increase to have a negative impact on Silver Spring businesses.

Bethany Bumbarger of Silver Spring said she remembered the parking to be “ a lot cheaper” in Silver Spring.

“I just came up here and saw it was like a dollar an hour and I was like 'What?'” said Bumbarger, who was charged $1.50 for parking for 70 minutes. “I used to bring my son out a lot and go play in the fountain in the summer and stuff, but if it's a dollar an hour, I don't think we'll be doing that.”

krose@gazette.net