Behind the Springs podcast: Validating the new parking rules

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The city’s parking enterprise has increase parking rates and extended meter hours downtown for the first time in 14 years. It’s not exactly great news … in fact, even our parking director’s mom had something to say about it!  But Jen & Ted want you to know the reason for the change, where the money is going and how it impacts you. 

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Recent episodes

  • Episode 11: How you can HelpCOS Homelessness is a complex issue, but Jen and Ted get some good information from the city’s Homelessness Response and Prevention Coordinator, Andy Phelps. What organizations and agencies does the city work with on this issue and what progress is being made? How can you donate and where does the money go? These are answers everyone needs to know. Plus, you won’t want to miss an emotional story at the end!
  • Special edition: Lucky number 13 Colorado Springs is lucky number 13! We feel lucky in Olympic City USA to make it on the New York Times’ prestigious “52 Places to Visit in 2020(link is external)” list. Jen and Ted talk about all the reasons that our city is making headlines like this and why so many people want to live in or visit Colorado Springs! 
  • Episode 12: GoCOS! Pothole on your street? Want to find the nearest park? There’s an app for that called GoCOS! It’s free to download onto your phone so that the power is at your fingertips. Hear from Citizen Engagement Specialist Jay Anderson about the features of the city’s new app and why the city needs you to use it!
  • Episode 13: What's it like to be mayor? Jen and Ted have a great conversation with Mayor John Suthers about his job as Mayor, why he chose public service and public office and how he stays focused. He shares the importance of setting goals along with his favorite part of serving as the Mayor of COS. 

Episode Transcript

Intro: (00:00)
Behind the Springs. Yeah, we'd love to hear from you on our Facebook comments. What would you like to hear on the podcast and inside look at your local government. Not what do you hate about growth in the city? We don't really want to hear about that. Colorado Springs, nearly 500,000 people. Olympic city, USA, garden of the gods. Pikes peak. It's a growing city. Our local government has a lot of employees. What exactly do they do? How does it impact my life? This is where you find out behind the Springs and inside. Look at your local government.

Jen: (00:37)
You may have heard about some changes to the city's parking enterprise.

Ted: (00:42)
Wait, Jen, what exactly is the city's parking enterprise?

Jen: (00:45)
So glad you asked Ted, because we have the director with us today to talk about what it is, what people need to know when they're looking for a parking spot downtown. Scott Lee is here with us. Thanks for joining us, Scott.

Scott: (00:57)
You're welcome. Glad to be here.

Jen: (00:58)
And I'm speaking of being here. Um, you have been here for just about how long?

Scott: (01:04)
Just about a year. 2018.

Jen: (01:06)
Okay. So you have joined us fairly recently and tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to be here in Colorado Springs.

Scott: (01:14)
Yeah, I was born and raised in Wisconsin and which school there? Then I began my journey after that and moved around the country over the next several decades. My parents moved here 25 years ago into Colorado Springs and loved it.

Scott: (01:27)
So we got familiar with it. Uh, got to visit a lot, got to see the touristy things and get to experience it. So when it was time that this job came open, it was like a no brainer for me to zap it and go for it.

Jen: (01:40)
Oh, that's awesome. We're so happy to have you here, but you've had some experience in the parking industry, right? I mean, yes. You've got a lot of background, right?

Scott: (01:49)
Yeah. I, I began in, in finance and management many years ago, but then, uh, when I wanted a change of career, I found the, a job opening as a parking enforcement officer at a major university in the state of Montana. And that's how I got into it. It was completely a change of pace for me, but I loved it and I've been in it ever since.

Jen: (02:06)
Okay. And so, um, tell us what a parking, which was Ted's question. What is a parking enterprise, right.

Ted: (02:14)
Jumping in here? Yeah, we've talked to, uh, w we've talked to basically all the other enterprises of the city. So we've kind of explained to people what they are, but, but tell us what the parking enterprise is and does for the city.

Scott: (02:26)
Sure. Just like all the other enterprises, we're a city owned business basically. We operate by user fees. We don't get any tax revenue, so, but our focus is parking everything related to parking on street, off street, it's all falls under my purview and all the structures, all the structures, three, three publicly owned city structures and the on street meter spaces as well as the old Colorado city parking lots.

Jen: (02:51)
And will you give us a little review of, um, I know it's been covered in the media in conjunction with the rate increases recently, but how many meters we have and kind of how, how, how much parking?

Scott: (03:02)
We have about 22,600 parking stalls in the structures divvied amongst the three. We have about the same number, 26 hundreds parking spots on the street that are metered. Currently there are a number of non metered spots, but we don't count those in that number. So there's a little over 5,200 spots throughout the city that are under our purview on a daily basis. Okay. And that doesn't count. There are a few private parking, private parking lots and, and non metered spots. Yes, correct.

Ted: (03:31)
Well, and if you've been watching the news, like Jen had said, you've been all over it recently. I mean it seems as though what you would think by what some people are saying that you've created Armageddon and, and our city. Um, talk about the parking increases when the last time we had an increases and a and why this is taking place. Maybe even compare it to some other cities

Scott: (03:54)
as well. Yes. This is our first parking rate increase since 2006. So let's go ahead and repeat that. So 14 years, 14 years ago [inaudible] some attention. Yeah. And they went up a quarter at that point too. So it wasn't a huge increase. No. Okay. So it really is a small incremental increase, but it was a long span between increases because before that it was 1997 when they had the prior increase. So we wait decades, a time before we make an increase, which is why people probably are unaware that that the needs of the parking enterprise are increasing over time.

Ted: (04:32)
Well that's not even covering inflation at that point if you're waiting a decade to put it up a quarter. So, and this past time was a 14 years, is that what we said? Yeah. Um, what are some of the, cause there was another release that came out. What are some of the needs of [inaudible] parking enterprise right now?

Scott: (04:47)
Well, we've, we've did a S a structural assessment 2019 some of them had never been done in the city of Colorado Springs. Looking at our garages and seeing where our deficiencies were, where our deferred maintenance, when you don't have revenue coming in, you can't afford to fix things on an ongoing basis. So this report was done by a consulting firm that came in and looked at all of our structures and identify things like our stairwells needing replacing or elevators are not reliable. And people who ride these elevators know that, that sometimes they aren't, there aren't the best and we've got to fix these, but without money we couldn't do it. There's also structural concrete. We have weather here, we get a lot of the Haas snow, then it melts. Water is the, is the enemy of concrete structures. It can get in there.

Scott: (05:30)
If it hits the rebar, it can rust it and it can weaken the integrity of a structure. So we've got to prevent that. So lots of little things like caulking, which you know, seems minor, but you think of the miles of caulking in each structure that needs to be replaced on a regular basis. That hasn't been, we're, we're quite a bit behind and to the tune of about $10 million in our structures.

Jen: (05:51)
Okay. And I also read to the entry systems, like where are you going? The Gates doesn't need to be correct. Right.

Scott: (05:57)
Our park system and I'm sure Ted's going to buzz me on that one. It's the acronym. Okay. It's not to be confused with parks and recreation. It's parks PRCS which stands for payment access, revenue control system, fancy name for the Gates. It's what allows you in and allows you out. Our system is old if you've gone there, you know sometimes it's okay to register me to take my dollar cause it seems like you wait five minutes to get in or to get out. The new systems are much faster, much more reliable and provide much better data for us to be able to monitor our structures as well on the usage and help keep that line moving. Oh yeah. You try and get out of these garages in the evening time or after an event. Hope you brought a snack cause it can take a while. The new system will get you in and out a lot faster. It will also tell us, Hey there's a hundred spots in that garage. We can push that to the new seat. Go cos app to various mobile apps or to the city website. So you're coming into town, your passenger, not the driver, the passenger, it looks at their phone, it says, Whoa, there's only five spots left in that garage. I'm going to go to the other one. We're cutting down the driving around the block looking for spots type of mentality, which is just improves the experience for everyone. Right?

Ted: (07:16)
It was, we're trying to go to that smart citySmart Cities utilize technology and the Internet of Things to address challenges facing our community and improve the quality of life for our citizens, particularly in the areas of connectivity, energy, and resilience. Colorado Springs identified four organizational pillars to implement a vision for Smart Cities: Energy and utilities, transportation and mobility, City services, and buildings and sustainability., uh, style of things. I mean that's a, that's a huge step. We were talking about the quarter increase. Can you kind of go over the blanket of increases in differences, um, from, uh, from last year to this year?

Scott: (07:31)
Sure. Well, our primary core area, as we call it, we're call it tier one, and it's now we've gone to Olympic city USA colors. So the meters in the downtown core area will be labeled with gold stickers. The next layer out will be silver. And then the further out we'll be bronze. So you'll know when you're in gold, you're paying the highest rate. If you look and you see a silver meter, it'll be a medium price and the bronze will be the cheaper. But it's just how far away you want to be from your destination. Okay. So, but back to Ted's question, this quarter is a quarter increase. So it's now a dollar 25 in the core area for a meter per hour. And the hours now go from 7:00 AM to 10:00 PM Monday to Saturday and one to 10 on Sundays. So it isn't always 70 a week, which just shares the burden. Again, we have users seven days a week down here. So we are asking each user to contribute. But again, if you don't come in and use parking, you don't pay for the parking. It's not a tax, it's a F, it's a user fee.

Jen: (08:26)
Right? And so the new, the newness to folks is not only that increased, but the extended hours, extended hours create, Oh,

Ted: (08:34)
Oh, I was gonna say some of the concerns that we were talking about prior to the show, maybe people that are working downtown, uh, that two hour max obviously doesn't help with that. Uh, what can they do? Where can they go?

Scott: (08:44)
Right. We are encouraging longterm Parker's not just employees, but if you're coming down to go shopping for the whole day or to go to a movie and dinner is to park in the structures on weekends and on nights after four o'clock our structures are $1 for the duration of that day, so it's not $1 per hour or a dollar and a quarter like it would be at the meter. It's a dollar. So if you're coming down on a Saturday and you're going to be here all day or you're an employee, the cheapest alternative is to park in the structures. That creates the opportunity for a customer to come into the downtown area, park close to their destination and spend money and that's what we want. We always joke about parking is, I don't want to hear, I want to hear that the person came downtown, had a great experience.

Scott: (09:27)
They ate dinner, they went out and saw a show. They got to meet with friends, they had a cup of coffee, whatever. I don't hear anything about, Oh, I paid too much for parking, or I drove around for 15 minutes looking for a spot. You don't hear that. I've done my job. And that's what the business is really clued in on when they ask for the extended hours. Okay. And that's something to note also, that you do have the backing of businesses as well. And they realize that by moving employees off of the street, that those are customer spots now and the customers come in, spend money that keeps employees hired and gets tip revenue and things like that for the service industry folks, because that's important to them. So they have to realize this is a benefit to them in the long run by hopefully increasing their paychecks.

Jen: (10:10)
So nice to park in those garages too. When you're out shopping or dinner or whatever, you don't have to worry about the meter. You just, you're done, you're parked, you're done. And like you said, after four, it's a buck.

Scott: (10:21)
Yeah. And you pay for only the time you use. Right. So if you're coming in, you're not sure how long you would be downtown and you don't want to feed a couple of hours until the meter go on this structure. And then if your partner doesn't show up for your event, you go back and you get out and you pay a few cents, 50 cents, you're gone. Versus saying, I, I've had the meter for a couple hours and it,

Jen: (10:39)
and I didn't even need it. Right. Yeah.

Ted: (10:41)
Well, and correct me if I'm wrong, the feeding the meter, uh, in the way that we normally think about it might be going away because aren't we getting some of the smart meters that you could feed from your phone?

Scott: (10:50)
Yes. This new rate increase will help fund new meters to go in the, in the whole downtown area. It will be a rolled out phased approach, but the new ones will offer a progressive pricing and allow you to exceed the two hour current limit for that parking. So yeah, you'll be able to use your mobile phone and you can pay for it with the app. And then it says, Oh, Scott, you're almost out of time. Do you want to add some time? And you can just said yes on your phone and it pays for it. It displays it right on the meter and you're good to go.

Jen: (11:20)
Sounds nice.

Ted: (11:20)
It does sound very nice. It sounds futuristic. It sounds smart. Like how we want to be in smart city and smart cos we're going to take a quick break, then we're going to come back. I do want to hit more on um, uh, on comparing us to other like sized cities and, and how actually we got a great deal going on here. So, uh, and maybe I'll get up on a soapbox because of this whole thing too.

Break: (11:42)
Hope you're enjoying this episode of behind the Springs. Jen and Ted are just scratching the surface when it comes to all the things you need to know about your local government. Stay connected with us on social media city of cos and check out our website at Colorado Springs dot code to stay up to date. Now back to the show

Jen: (12:04)
with Scott Lee, our parking enterprise director, and Scott, we want to talk a little bit about comparing our city to some other cities. Um, so that people, I know that they all, you know, people get a little anxious when there are increases. However, uh, we are not even, you know, meeting where other folks we were were a deal over here. We're below average in a positive way and in terms of we're not paying, um, you know, over what we should be at this point can be terribly.

Scott: (12:32)
Yeah, the Colorado Springs is the 39th largest city in America, and yet our parking rates, we, there's a site called Parkopedia and you can go check it out. Um, compared to them, we are a bargain. And here, for example, the two hour rate in the 50th largest, most expensive city is Cincinnati at $5 and 43 cents for us for two hours in the garage is $2. Right? Uh, comparing a daily rate, the maximum in the most expensive 50th city is Minneapolis at $14 and 85 cents. We're at $9. And then monthly rates for those of us that do come in and on a frequent basis, Houston is the 50th city at $117 and 67 cents a month. And we just raised our $70 a month. So again, we're a bargain and yet we have so much to offer.

Ted: (13:21)
Yeah, we're almost half the price of most of those things. And the other thing I want, or most of the cities, the other thing I want to bring up is, uh, also city employees are paying this as well. We park in either the garage or I get to park in the lot right next to city hall, which also cuts down on the, I know you'd mentioned the get your snack out as you're getting off work and whatnot. It is nice parking in a surface lot where I can just leave, but I'm,

Jen: (13:44)
but there are a lot of folks who, who, you know, want to know what that monthly rate is, but it's competitive. I mean, comparatively, and even though it's going up a little

Ted: (13:53)
well, and, uh, and like I said, just what a deal it is. Uh, I also wanted to make sure people know the city employees are paying for this. Like I said, so everybody's paying in. That's, that's downtown. And um, and it's just kind of a fact of life. If you're working downtown in any, uh, decent sized city, you're going to be, uh, paying a monthly rate. And, and I'm not upset with the rate that we're paying here is why I'm going on that.

Scott: (14:20)
And if you can, we do a rate survey of the other rates of privately owned surface lots in town. And the average right now when we raised ours was $4 an hour for surface parking lot. So again, paying a dollar and a quarter at the meter or a dollar at the garage is a bargain compared to the other options available in the downtown area.

Ted: (14:41)
And it's one of those things where we were already talking, I guess this is my maybe soapbox, but 25 cents to a an an hour or having to pay on or maybe later in the day. These are all things that are going to improving your city, our city. Um, these are things that you already mentioned the study about. Um, some structural issues that we gotta get taken care of. Um, so it's safety as well as we are growing. And there's another study that I wanted to hit on that you guys are, are in the midst of right now, but there's been a lot of talk as well. A couple of new stadiums coming downtown. Are we going to have enough parking? I know we do right now, but with additions of more hotels, more apartments on South Tejon, um, what are we looking at for the future and how will these rates help pay for this?

Scott: (15:29)
You're right Ted. We do have adequate parking now. It, Oh, people will, you know, always want to park right in further destination. That's not always possible. But the rate increases do help create occupancy or vacancy on the streets that people can get to by pushing longterm parkers in the garages. But you're right, we do have to plan for the future as well with the new stadium, with the new Olympic museum opening up soon, we've got increased demand coming. And one of the things that this rate increase will help us do is show that we've got a revenue stream going forward, which increases our bonding capacity to allow us to add additional structures in the future to meet this changing demand over time. And I'm glad you touched on this study we're doing. It is a comprehensive study, but it's not just your ordinary parking study.

Scott: (16:18)
It's, it develops the actual physical model, a electronic model on the computer that allows you to determine where and what size to put a garage based on not just the current assessment of what's there, but also what you likely think is going to change. So if I have a surface block is changing from a warehouse use to a hotel use, that's a very different parking demand and we have to account for that. Doing a normal historical traffic and parking study would say, Oh, you need to generate this many spots, but then it doesn't take into consideration the next block over. Somebody might be doing something completely different. And an average parking stall in an above ground garage costs about $20,000 just one spot. One spot

Ted: (17:02)
and that's an eye opening number for people to realize. Um, you know, adding parking is expensive, but you have to do it strategically. Right. And that's why you're doing this.

Jen: (17:11)
Exactly. Yeah. You work Scott with our economic development, very close Hartman and that, and you know all those folks to really come together on these things.

Scott: (17:20)
because I can't build a garage tomorrow and I can't build it with 10 parking spots and then say, Oh, Oh, next week I need to add 10 more. It doesn't work that way. It takes years to plan, design and build these structures. So I have to right size them from the beginning but also planning years down the road. So working closely with economic development with our whole city team of you know, professionals here that really can help add input because again, not everybody is going to have all the information, but just the idea that Hey, I heard, you know, new hotels coming in are being considered for a location really can impact us where we put these garages. So this model will help us forecast that much more accurately than we have in the past. And ability to build the right size and design it appropriately for the use that it's going to need. [inaudible]

Ted: (18:08)
well, I'm fascinated by this study also talk about how your, you were alluding to a predicting maybe a warehouse turns into a hotel or something like that. Talk about how, how in the weeds you guys are going with this. I mean, you're going business to business, correct?

Scott: (18:23)
Yes. Right now this model takes the entire basic wide area downtown on a building by building basis and they put in there each building's current usage. Then they go through and forecast. We think this one's shading from this use to this use from this size to this size. So a warehouse to a high rise hotel or to a commercial with office above it and residential above it. You know what I mean? It forecasts the demand based on all these. And in the shared use, this is where it's critical to is if I've got a residential unit, it can use the same parking spot as an office complex because they go home at five o'clock and I'm coming back at six you know, so you don't have to build two spots, you maybe only need to build one, but you've got to know the information and be able to use, use the technology out there.

Jen: (19:14)
How long will that study take or is it, it's underway now. It's underway now. And we hope that in, in the early spring time we'll have some preliminary results from it. Then we run scenarios with these, as I was saying, these examples of how we're gonna change a building usage or put a new stadium in on that dirt lot. No one there that they just started digging a hole. Right. You know, and that's gotta change. But again, as Ted said, we've got capacity now to handle the stadium, but we're looking at what's the growth potential beyond that because the stadium's going to be a catalyst just like it is for everything else. The museum is going to be a catalyst. Redevelopment in downtown Colorado Springs, an ESCO draw a lot of destination people too. So we are planning for that. So we are years out in our looking of how to address the parking need. So not just today, but what we'll need in five and 10 years from now.

Jen: (20:04)
That's awesome.

Ted: (20:05)
Well, in these things downtown that you're talking about that are popping up, um, downtown stadium, Olympic museum, uh, the great thing with how our parking is set right now is it's also destinations, but this allows you to go out, maybe shop a little bit, go get some food, go get a drink before, uh, going and enjoying, uh, one of the switchbacks games here in a couple of years. Uh, you hit on the $20,000 per stall number, uh, for people just so that they know what's kind of a estimate for how much a parking structure in total costs and how long does it take to actually build a parking structure?

Scott: (20:37)
Yeah, that's a good, good question to ask Ted. And it varies because it's, it's, it hope you can't just say, I've got a narrow lot that I'm gonna put to sun. It's efficiencies. So we operate in in standard widths of about 60 feet for a Bay, which is two parking spots, one on either side and the drive aisle. So if you've got a 60 foot wide lot, you could fit one, but where would your ramp be to go up to the upper levels? So you really need to go to 120 or you know, further dimensions of that. So it really becomes a, uh, engineering masterpiece for these people to say how big a spot you need and how long and how would you make your ramps and things like that. So it's it, the cost generally will only go up from there. If you get site in efficiencies or you have real constraints or if you have to go subterranean it off, you're putting it under a building.

Jen: (21:28)
Right. Prices going up a whole other thing. Yeah. Before we wrap up, I do want to thank you so much for the information, Scott and your time and I want to point people to our website for that map that you mentioned about the gold, silver and bronze and how they can check out the meters. I'm around their favorite business, wherever they frequent or wherever they work. Um, and then check out the garages as well and that pricing and um, of course it's Colorado and you can check out and you can, I think you can do Colorado and that'll get you to all the rates.

Ted: (22:00)
Can I frustrate you and squeeze in one more question? I love this story that you told us beforehand. I hope you're willing to share it. Um, you've been getting some flack for, for the 25 cent raise,

Jen: (22:12)
but he's also received positive feedback.

Ted: (22:15)
Yes. Uh, there's a lot of positive feedback that's come from people that are looking towards the bright future of our city. Um, who's the most interesting person that you've gotten some feedback from?

Scott: (22:25)
That would be my mother. She's been, uh, my parents moved to Colorado Springs 25 years ago and she frequents the downtown, the library, the soup kitchen, volunteers a lot and all, and she was the one, I happened to mention it on a dinner night with her that we were raising parking rates. She stopped and immediately looked at me and said, you're not going to raise my parking rates. I said, mom it is only a quarter. And he was like, you can't do that. And she actually was calling mayor Suthers to tell him not to approve the quarter increase.

Ted: (22:57)
Oh no. She talked to me or so it was, it was quite embarrassing because.

Scott: (23:02)
I was like, mom, I'll give you a roll of quarters. Please give me your car. Just I need a job. You know, I really like what I do and the mayor took it all in good stride and he was laughing about it, but my mother was still adamant with them at the end of the conversation that she did not want her rates increased, but she knows that it's, it's a necessary for, you know, keeping our downtown is as opportunistic as it is. Businesses thrive here because people come here and we've got to keep that going.

Jen: (23:29)
But she's a good example of it's hard. Change is hard and that's why we're doing this. You've

Ted: (23:34)
lived here for a long time like your mother has. Um, uh, we understand that change change is hard, but you know, it's tough when your, your mother calls your boss even tougher when your boss is the mayor.

Jen: (23:44)
So she's going to be proud in the end just, yeah. Yes, yes it is.

Ted: (23:48)
Well, Scott, thank you so much for joining us and this was very educational and I hope people listening are coming out of this with a lot of new information as well. Uh, any last words that you want to share?

Scott: (23:59)
No, I want to thank you both for taking the time to indulge me. You know me, I love to talk parking and I'm more than glad to share what I know. And, and you're right, is getting the correct information out to people is the most important. There's a lot of rumors about things and, and, but in the scheme of things, a quarter an hour really is not that significant to most people and it for the services that we can offer now that we will have this additional revenue stream and the opportunities that we'll create for new businesses and employees here, it's going to be wonderful for the city in the long run.

Ted: (24:31)
Oh, the future is bright as always. Thank you for listening to behind the Springs and re like, subscribe. If you loved this episode, there's more to come.


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