More free parking lost

Francesca Vaughan parks in the free parking lot at State Avenue and Franklin Street. The parking lot will become a pay lot beginning next week.
Francesca Vaughan parks in the free parking lot at State Avenue and Franklin Street. The parking lot will become a pay lot beginning next week. The Olympian

OLYMPIA - Starting Monday, the City of Olympia will charge $20 a month for people who work downtown to park in its previously-free 70-space lot at State and Franklin streets, dubbed the Smart Lot. It's the latest tweak to the city's parking system after a year that saw major changes, notably the installation of 50 parking pay stations centered in the formerly free 90-minute zone.

The Smart Lot opened in late 2009 on the north side of State Avenue between Franklin and Adams streets. Parking there has been free, sort of an introductory offer to encourage downtown workers to park there instead of taking up on-street spaces. The lot was put into place in advance of the city’s parking pay stations, which began charging $1 an hour in July in 335 spaces in the former 90-minute free zone.

A 50-space parking lot at Olympia Avenue and Franklin Street also will be designated a Smart Lot and the monthly price dropped to $20 from $30 to match the other lot, said Deborah Lobe, city parking-services manager.

Drivers can apply for the parking permits at City Hall, 900 Plum St. S.E. The Parking Services office at 117 Legion Way has been closed in preparation for a move to the new City Hall, which is being built at 615 Fourth Ave. E. Until it is finished in the spring, parking matters will be handled out of the current City Hall.

The Smart Lot spaces are available to qualifying downtown employees who get a permit. Lobe said she has 20 permits available for the State/Franklin lot and probably 15 for the Olympia/Franklin lot.

Permits are for one lot only and are not transferable. A permit doesn’t entitle somebody to a particular space in the lots, Lobe said. Parking is on a first-come, first-served basis.

The existing Smart Lot at State and Franklin Street has been full of customers, Lobe said.

“We see very few employees parking on the streets now,” she said. If they do, it’s for a shorter time, she said.

The monthly rate for the Smart Lots is lower than in the other city parking lots that offer leased parking for $30 to $65 a month.

Although anyone can use the pay stations, the city is targeting them at customers, not employees.

The city borrowed $725,000 to buy and install the stations, and it expects to pay $810,000 over three years, including interest, to retire a loan for them.

The city has collected $141,803 at the pay stations, Lobe said. Because the new stations accept credit and debit cards, the city has spent about $2,000 a month on card transaction fees, city finance manager Dean Walz said.

The fees are paid from parking revenues.

Lobe said 50 percent of people use coins. The city receives continuously updated data about the stations’ use.

In addition to pay stations, the city maintains hundreds of traditional three- and nine-hour meters, which accept coins.

Users can expect another tweak in this new year. Lobe said that after the city heard complaints that the display on the pay stations isn’t bright enough, it will be changed, hopefully in the next month or so.

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 mbatcheldor@theolympian.com