Seawall parking

Scott Freudenburg, assistant manager of parking for the Galveston Island Park Board of Trustees, talks to a family visiting the beach on July 29 about paid parking along the seawall in Galveston.

Galveston voters should be inclined to support most of the recommendations announced last week and meant to improve the city’s fee-based parking system along Seawall Boulevard.

There’s one exception, however, that city leaders should think through completely before including it on a ballot.

The Seawall Parking Ad Hoc Committee on Thursday recommended a rate increase from $1 to $2 an hour with a minimum two-hour charge along Seawall Boulevard as part of its review of the seawall parking program.

The city council last month tasked the committee with studying the parking system before asking voters to reauthorize it in a referendum to be held as soon as May.

Voters approved the $1 an hour charge in 2011 on the condition money would be used for seawall improvements such as restrooms and bus stops.

Increasing the hourly rate is an essential reform because it would bring in more money for needed seawall improvements.

The problem with the $1 an hour fee is that people tend to pay it, even when they stay for much longer than an hour. They just use cellphones to extend the time hour after hour. Each transaction costs the city 25 cents.

So, every time somebody buys an hour of parking, the city gets only 75 cents. Over four hours, for example, at an hour a time the city gets $3 and the vendor gets $1. If the visitor pays for four hours, the city gets $3.75 and the vendor gets a quarter. If a person buys eight hours, the city gets $7.75 and the vendor gets a quarter.

The main beneficiary of the $1 minimum isn’t some microscopic population of people who can afford a car and gas for it but have only a buck to park, it’s the vendor processing the transactions.

Because of the original ballot language, the city can’t raise the minimum even 25 cents to cover that overhead.

We agree with city leaders who’ve advocated that the minimum transaction should be four hours, but a two-hour minimum is a reasonable compromise that voters should support.

Two committee members summed it well at a meeting last week:

“Downtown Galveston, we are all paying $1.75 to park,” Dennis Byrd Jr. said. “There’s more traffic on the seawall than downtown. It’s the number-one reason we come to Galveston.”

“This just helps us put more money toward what beach parking is for,” City Marshal Michael Gray said.

The bottom line is a $1 minimum is far below what the market will bear and serves a population that’s mostly hypothetical.

The committee also recommended raising the cost of annual passes from $25 to $45. That recommendation needs a harder look.

While most committee members supported the annual pass increase, Susan Fennewald worried Galvestonians won’t be willing to pay so much.

“I think that’s too much,” Fennewald said. “On a summer weekend, I think that’s fine, but the rest of the time, I think that’s too much.”

Fennewald is right, although for a slightly different reason.

She didn’t want the fees to be a burden to residents, she said.

Increasing the annual permit price to $45 wouldn’t be an actual burden; it works out to $3.75 a month. It’s high enough to create a perception of a burden, however, and would give opponents of parking fees a single, simple point to rally around.

The main argument against charging any fees in the first place was that doing so would burden the resident population. Before the initial referendum, opponents demanded an exemption from the fees for Galveston residents, which state law wouldn’t allow.

The annual pass was created to give residents a special deal. The pass is available to everyone, residents or not, but people who live here are far more likely to buy one than are visitors.

The question is whether the potential revenue in increasing the price of annual passes is enough to justify the ill will it might create among the local voters who’ll decide whether the program continues or ends.

We doubt it is.

The city should focus on the real money, which is in the hourly fees, and leave the annual passes alone.

• Michael A. Smith

Michael A. Smith: 409-683-5206; michael.smith@galvnews.com

Editor

(8) comments

Susan Fennewald

It's a myth that a great many people pay with repeated transactions in one day. We were able to analyze the data and found that 85-90% of the visitors make only 1 transaction.

My position was that Galvestonians shouldn't HAVE to pay $4 (or$45) to park and take a walk in their principal park.
Galveston has very little parkland, especially east of 61stst.
If we have to pay to park on the Seawall, then we should at least get free admission to Seawolf park. The city has to charge residents as well as visitors for parking on the beachfront (because of Texas open beaches rules), but the residents could be given free access to Seawolf park while visitors were charged a fee.

Charlotte O'rourke

Question - something I’ve never understood, and am still pondering.

Does the state tell a private property owner how much it can charge or if it can give residents free parking to be able to walk to the public beach?

If the state can’t tell a private owner pricing, how can it tell a public city and residents who own the land at Stewart - before getting to the actual public BEACH - how much it can charge and if residents can park for free.

For the Seawall, I have a different set of questions.

Rusty Schroeder

I would like to see numbers on what it cost to recover money from those who don't pay in the first place. The city has given them but the Park Board hasn't. How many tickets go unpaid ? The people that pay are also paying for those that don't, simple math.

Joe Flores

totally agree and also very few tickets are written on seawall compared to downtown and hospital area ... public records !!

Charlotte O'rourke

Why must the rate be equal for residents and nonresidents ..... because it is called a “beach user fee”?

If Stewart Beach were run like a business with multiple facilities and an Entrance Fee charged and not just part of “beach user fees” plan for parking for public beach access, what would be the pros/cons? Could residents park free? What could/should be built to draw customers?

The annual “beach user fee” is already $50 for residents and nonresidents to park at Stewart and seawall even if I’m really going to get a haircut and no beach access is used. Downtown is separate and not a beach user fee.

I would really like to see a push for more than just a giant beach parking lot at Stewart beach, free resident parking in any place where it is allowed by changing terminology and business plans and the property is city/resident owned - seawolf Park, Stewart beach, downtown, etc. and one pass is good for all parking.

Jarvis Buckley

I do not think residents should have to pay anything to park. Taxe's should cover their usage.

Joe Flores

Agree with you Michael and really should
focus on income ...very few tickets being written the seawall vs downtown ...do a public records request ...totally shocking !! good report !!

Charlotte O'rourke

One used to be able to park for free at the beach, downtown, pleasure pier and Seawolf Park. NOSTALGIA ....

Now one pays $50 for an annual pass to beach parks (I’m assuming the new rate will be $90 ?), $1.75 an hour for downtown ($182 a year if you go once a week for 2 hours), $10 to WALK on pleasure pier, and $6 for parking at seawolf park and another $6 for fishing (resident discounts).

Increase the hourly rate at beach. Leave the annual pass rate alone or if raised at least include convenience for one price gets unlimited access to all parks frequented.

It is my understanding that the beach user fees for parking (unlike downtown) do not allow administrative payment for code enforcement?????

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Thank you for Reading!

Please log in, or sign up for a new account and purchase a subscription to read or post comments.