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Burlington parking rate increase takes a step forward - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Burlington parking rate increase takes a step forward

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

Whether you're heading to downtown Burlington for dinner, to shop or to stop at your favorite bar, finding a spot to park can be a hassle.

Several residents called it a daily struggle.

Burlington resident Bob Metz said, "I don't even bother trying to find any space on the streets because there's really not any."

"It's very anti-customer, it's very anti-resident," Chris Dunwoody opined.

Residents have two options: put their car in a garage or find a meter on the street.

The city now says its parking system is unsustainable. It needs drivers to pay more after budget projections showed a significant shortfall.

Public Works Commissioner Chapin Spencer said the traffic fund projected a deficit of $250,000 in the fiscal year 2015.

The city has proposed a new parking plan that would raise parking rates in both garages and at meters. The Public Works Commission unanimously approved the proposed changes Wednesday night.

After a year of research, the city crafted a plan to reach two goals: to improve the customer parking experience and to ensure a sustainable parking system.

In an eight block area around Church Street, a quarter will now buy you just 10 minutes at a meter instead of 15. The first two hours will still be free in garages.

The city hopes that the increased rates will raise nearly $500,000. That would pay down the deficit and allow for garage improvements and technology investments.

Kelly Devine from the Burlington Business Association said at Wednesday's Public Works meeting that the new plan will help businesses because customers will have more parking options.

"Parking is the number one complaint businesses get," Devine said. "The number one complaint businesses get about parking is that they don't have any change."

At the Daily Planet, they routinely hear complaints from customers about parking problems.

Bartender Meghan Garry-McGrath said, "Our customers get pretty upset because we're on this one-way street that has really, really limited parking."

For customer convenience, the city will add credit card swipes to 300 meters as well as pay-by-phone options.

The city hopes the new plan will decongest the downtown core. Officials say higher prices will encourage faster turnover and more available spots. If the changes have not created the desired results after six months, the city will re-examine its policies.

Spencer says having a sustainable parking system is key to having a vibrant downtown.

"We have the long-term goal of keeping the downtown vibrant; we very much believe that if we can optimize our downtown parking system, we can be a supportive engine for that continued growth," he said.

The new parking plan will be phased in gradually starting in October. Rates at parking meters will not stop at 6 p.m.; drivers will have to pay until 10 p.m. That change could make the city an extra $180,000. The Burlington City Council must now approve the plan as well.

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