For once, there are plenty of parking spaces in downtown Eugene and near the University of Oregon. Finding a spot to park no longer takes ten minutes of circling a three-block radius, complicated by a never ending grid of one-way streets.
Although this is good for the few people still going in to work in those areas, the lack of money in the meters and parking tickets means a significant revenue loss for Eugene’s Parking Services Department, which has struggled to find its footing during the pandemic. As fewer people park their cars, the department’s revenue declines to a small fraction of what it was, causing it to look to the future and re-evaluate its funding of downtown activities.
Money generated from Parking Services helps fuel the Eugene economy, Parking Services Manager Jeff Petry says, such as the Downtown Ambassadors program, the downtown mural program and various other events. Depending on how the next few months pan out, the department may have to drop some of that support.
“Some of these areas we have provided investment, but it’s going to cause us to look at how we spend our parking dollars,” Petry says. “We are trying to figure out how to do this.”
He says around the time that stay-at-home orders took effect, parking services shifted its rules for enforcement. For example, to help restaurants with takeout and delivery, the department has allowed people to park in front of businesses to make their service more accessible.
Parking Services is also still enforcing some parking rules against “bad parking behavior” — people who park on the wrong side of the street or between two metered spaces, for example.
Petry adds that parking officers may or may not be enforcing permits and meters, but they aren’t focusing on them. They are checking on electric vehicle charging stations even less.
Petry says he has been keeping track of the Parking Services revenue and comparing it to the department’s usual numbers at this point in the year. He says each year parking generates $7.7 million in revenue. Parking tickets account for about 13 percent, or $1 million of revenue, tenant spaces make up about $600,000 and another $6 million comes from user fees, parking permits and meters.
“In January, we had about $300,000 generated in each month, just in meter revenue,” Petry explains. He tracked the last 30 days and found that the daily metered revenue had decreased by $250,000 a month — an 83 percent decrease in meter revenue.
Parking citations usually average about $70,000 a month, he says. Right now, citations are generating $5,000 to $7,000.
Parking is tied to business activity, Petry says. He expects to see a significant impact from the University of Oregon, which funds $1.6 million a year, as classes and track meets are canceled.
“If there are no classes or Olympic activity, that will have a large impact over the next few months,” he says. “From a parking enterprise fund, we are tied to the business and economic community.”
The city has not laid off or furloughed employees working in Parking Services, Petry says. It has scaled back some contract workers like garage security guards and booth attendents.
These changes in how the department manages patrons also affect how the Eugene Municipal Court handles parking tickets. As usual, payment for tickets can be made through the online payment portal, but you cannot currently pay for a ticket in person. Parking court has been suspended for the time being, and the Municipal Court is encouraging people who choose to contest the ticket to dispute it by mail, or use the court drop box form to submit a letter of explanation to the court.
Because Parking Services is a department of the city, it doesn’t qualify for the same economic help that other businesses are eligible for, such as the Paycheck Protection Program from the Small Business Association. Petry says that the department has dealt with these types of revenue issues before in other difficult economic times.
“We have done this before. We have to ask how do we pivot, how do we deliver services to our community, how do we structure our program to meet those needs?”