GALVESTON — At long last, the day has finally come.
Starting today at 10 a.m., parking will no longer be free along most parts of Seawall Boulevard, one of the most popular destinations for tourists on the island.
Visitors who want to park on the seawall between 6th and 69th streets and 81st and 103rd streets will have to pay $1 an hour or $8 a day to park. And for the most part, they will need to use their mobile phones to do so.
During a news conference on the seawall Friday, Police Chief Henry Porretto said that the program’s opening day would be treated as a dry run. Porretto said that instead of issuing a $17 citation for a violation, his officers will reach out to violators and inform them of the new policies and show them how to pay for parking.
Officials said they believe that residents will find the parking software, a mobile-phone based system called PayByPhone, intuitive and easy to use.
“It’s new to Galveston, but it’s not new to the rest of the world,” said Porretto. “Galveston is 174 years old. Sometimes everybody is slow to change. Of course we’re going to have challenges, but we’re going to help people get through those.”
Porretto did not say how long the amnesty period would last.
After declining to name a start date for months, the city announced on Wednesday that the program would go live this weekend.
It is, in some ways, a long time coming.
The parking program was approved by Galveston voters in May 2011 but has been delayed as the city struggled to find ways to manage, fund and implement the program. Revenues generated by the program are supposed to help fund enhancements to the city’s beaches.
Mayor Lewis Rosen said those enhancements could include amenities, such as bathrooms on the beaches, as well as beautification projects.
He estimated that a full season of paid parking could bring in as much at $2 million, though earlier estimates by the city predicted revenues somewhere between $500,000 and $750,000.
The money will also be used to pay the salaries of the four police officers and five civilian parking ambassadors who will patrol the seawall in vehicles equipped with automated license plate scanners.
The camera-like scanners will photograph and interpret every license plate number of vehicles parked along the seawall and send that information to a central database that will compare it to the plates that have registered to park, said police officer Sean Migues.
“Within 30 seconds to a minute of you actually paying for your parking, it goes into the database,” Migues said.
He said that the database was “strictly for the purposes of parking.”
“We do not share our information with anyone,” Migues said.
Porretto said that the license plate database was capable of being connected to other police services, like a stolen car registry and Amber Alert system. He also said the information from the parking program would be cleared from the system after 30 days.
The city is still asking businesses along the seawall to help facilitate the program. So far, only two businesses have agreed to act as paid parking facilitators.
Austin Kimbraugh, the owner of the 61st Street Fishing Pier, said that, essentially, his role was to use his own mobile phone to do the same thing as a normal customer would do. Visitors will pay him to register their car, and then he will pay the same amount to the parking company to complete the transaction.
The businesses are essentially performing a free service, Kimbraugh said.
He said the process of entering parking information was simple, though residents need to know one key piece of information when they come to him — their license plate number.
If they don’t, he said, they’re going to have to take a long walk back to the car.
A different code for residents who live near the seawall
GALVESTON — In April, in anticipation of the start of seawall parking, the council approved an ordinance change creating the new Seawall Residential Parking District.
The district, essentially, encompasses the neighbors about three to five blocks north of the seawall.
Parking rules in this district have existed for years. In some places, there is resident-only parking; in others, parking is limited to two hours.
At the time it was passed, officials said the new district left many of the existing parking rules in place.
However, the ordinance also says that the prohibitions would not apply to residents who had parking decals or visitors who were supplied similar, temporary decals.
Despite the ordinance, the city is not providing decals at all.
Instead, there is a special four-digit code that residents use on the PayByPhone system to register their vehicles in the residential parking district. The residential district code is 5018.
The code does not provide free parking on the seawall, said city spokeswoman Elizabeth Rogers. It only registers a car as belonging in the residential area.
Assistant City Manager Brian Maxwell said the code, right now, doesn’t actually discriminate between residents of the district and those who live outside of it — meaning a person from, say, the West End of the island or Houston could use it to falsely register there and avoid be detected by license plate scanners.
Maxwell said, however, that the city will have the ability to audit the licenses that are registered in the residential parking districts to make sure that the license plates belong to cars with addresses there, meaning fakers could possibly be found out.