Bethlehem City Council heard about financial challenges the city's Parking Authority is facing during COVID-19. (Patrece Savino/B&W Staff)

Bethlehem to raise parking meter rates in January

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The city of Bethlehem is planning to increase hourly parking meter rates from $1 to $1.50 after Jan. 1, 2019.

The increase will allow the city to collect and allocate money for improvement projects on parking garages on North and Walnut streets and future construction plans for a garage near the Sands Casino on Third and Polk streets.

But some drivers can catch a break before the full hike goes into effect.

The Morning Call reported the parking rate will remain $1-per-hour for the first six months of 2019 for those using the MobileNow! app. Garage parking rates during this time will also remain $1 per 90 minutes.

On Nov. 7, the Bethlehem city council met to discuss potential increases in parking meter fines but decided to hold off.

“City council postponed the vote on raising parking citations until there is a clearer picture of how the parking authority wants to fund a proposed new parking garage at Third and Polk streets on the South Side,” Councilman Michael Colon said.

Over the summer, the Bethlehem Parking Authority made a recommendation to Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez to raise costs. He held a public meeting on Sept. 20 to discuss logistics.

The proposal proved unpopular among Bethlehem residents in attendance.

“I attended the public meeting about the meter increase, and the majority of residents who came out were against the raise to $1.50 an hour,” Colon said.

Colon said the last time meter costs increased was in 2012 when the hourly rate doubled from $.50 to $1.

On Oct. 1, Donchez confirmed the meter rate increase. As mayor, it was solely Donchez’s decision to raise meter costs, while the city council assumes responsibility for raising parking fines. The Bethlehem Parking Authority is in charge of raising rates for the city’s garages.

Donchez said he has received little criticism for the increase.

“I received very few phone calls or emails from the public since I made the announcement a month ago,” Donchez said.

But some Lehigh students expressed displeasure with the planned parking increases.

Vladimir Castillo, ’19, said the increase places a greater burden on students. He believes the mayor and city council could have devised better ways to raise public funds for city projects.

“I believe the city can come up with a better plan to both increase parking availability as well as optimize the costs for students in order to suit both,” Castillo said.

Donchez said he did not experience any major obstacles in the decision making process, but reiterated that he took reasonable steps towards optimizing a fair increase.

“I met with representatives of the Bethlehem Parking Authority and Desman Consulting, reviewed the financing of projects of the Bethlehem Parking Authority for the future,” Donchez said. “Also, I reviewed the parking rates of other cities in Pennsylvania.”

Donchez also suggested to the Bethlehem Parking Authority that it should consider variable rate or zone parking, which would allow rates to be adjusted depending on parking demand at different times of the day.

Additionally, Donchez requested that the Bethlehem Parking Authority allocate $100,000 per year between the North Side and South Side business districts for improvements.

For comparison, the city of Easton charges $1-per-hour for parking downtown, while Allentown varies between $1 and $2-per-hour rates depending on the location.

On top of securing funding for the construction and renovation of garages, Donchez would like the increase in Bethlehem Parking Authority revenue to improve small local businesses to increase appeal and consumer satisfaction, which will benefit all residents.

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