SIOUX CITY | An increasing number of motorists have been using Sioux City's downtown parking ramps in the months since the city started offering the first hour for free and reduced rates for subsequent hours.
The city has yet to attract enough vehicles to the ramps in any one month to avoid losing revenue, although in January -- the city's highest-traffic month so far -- revenue came within $10 of the break-even point.
Staff say they're pleased with the overall progress of the program, which is nearing the end of the fifth month of a six-month trial period.
"It's exceeded my expectations," Public Works Director Dave Carney said. "It's great to see the usage up in every one of our ramps."
The city in October began reducing rates in its four downtown parking structures to encourage motorists to park in the underutilized ramps rather than on-street spaces.
Under the initiative, motorists receive the first hour of parking free and discounted subsequent hours. For example, parking in a ramp for two hours would only cost 75 cents, the typical cost for one hour; parking in a ramp for three hours would cost $1.50, the typical cost for two hours; and so on.
In the first four months, 10,823 vehicles used the ramps, up from 9,896 during the same four-month time period in 2016 and 2017. That amounted to an increase of 927 vehicles, or about 9 percent. The number of people choosing to park in the ramps increased each month.
Numbers were uncharacteristically low in October and November due to work on the entrance of the Discovery Parking Ramp. Carney said the gates were left open, leading to dramatically low numbers in October and a lower total in November. However, he said, every other ramp showed an increase during that time period.
The months of December and January have been the most positive, attracting 273 more vehicles and 1,243 more vehicles, respectively.
"We're pleased with those numbers," said Monette Harbeck, the city's parking and meter operations supervisor. "That was our ultimate goal, to get other people into the parking ramps."
In January, the more than 1,200 vehicles brought the city more than $7.6 million in revenue, just $10 shy of the previous January's total. Carney said the high numbers in January could have been in part influenced by the snowstorms that made it illegal to park on many downtown streets.
The city had estimated it could lose as much as $20,000 from the initiative if more traffic was not attracted. Thus far, the city has lost just over $8,000 -- but $7,100 occurred during months with construction. The city uses the revenue for parking ramp maintenance.
City staff will present statistics to the Sioux City Council after the conclusion of the first six months for evaluation. Carney said in his opinion, if the numbers continue to be as strong as the last two months, he could see the program continuing.