Bethlehem Parking Authority asked Bethlehem City Council to double parking fines starting in January 2020.
The current fine for expired or unpaid meters is $10, which is the same cost as the daily garage rates in South and North Bethlehem.
“There’s no incentive driving people from parking on the street and paying the fine versus parking in a garage for the price,” Bethlehem City Councilwoman Paige Van Wirt said.
Van Wirt said the goal of increasing fines is to force those who park day-long into the garages, so there is more turnover for short-term parking at meters, benefiting local businesses.
Per Bethlehem’s laws, the mayor has the power to change parking rates, while city council has the authority to set parking fines. The parking authority, which is independent from the city, can make suggestions on parking rates and fines, Bethlehem City Councilwoman Olga Negrón said.
“It’s split up,” Van Wirt said. “And that’s part of the problem — that there is no cohesive unity in terms of what our vision is for a parking plan.”
Kevin Livingston, the executive director of Bethlehem Parking Authority, said the parking authority funded two studies on increasing parking fines through consultants Desman Design Management and Kimley-Horn. Livingston said Bethlehem Parking Authority used these studies to support its request to City Council.
The Desman Design Management study found, “the fine for parking at an expired meter and the fine for parking in excess of the posted time limit in non‐metered spaces, such as in residential permit parking areas, is less than half of the average of the cities examined.”
Fees in Easton, Harrisburg, Scranton and Lancaster range from $20 to $30.
The study suggests that parking meter fines should be 10 or 15 times the hourly parking rate. Bethlehem has an hourly parking rate of $1.50, which would put fines between $15 and $22.50.
Bethlehem Parking Authority anticipates a 20 percent reduction in total tickets issued, and a 40 percent reduction in both meter and overtime parking violations, according to the study.
“(The consultants) considered what was best for the parking authority and their analysis,” Van Wirt said. “That’s my biggest contention. What’s best for the citizens of Bethlehem, what’s best for the small businesses in our downtowns.”
Van Wirt suggests a one-year pilot study of free parking at meters for two or three hours, but with increased fines.
“The parking authority wouldn’t lose any money because any loss of revenue from those meter rates would be offset by higher ticket prices,” Van Wirt said.
Negrón is a supporter of the free parking pilot and said the increased foot traffic would benefit local business. She said increasing fines without implementing the pilot first would not help business.
She said free parking would be a relief for citizens and would allow business owners to be more involved in the parking discussion.
“I wish there were more people engaged in the process of providing us feedback (and) holding us accountable to the process so we have the kind of city that we want to have,” Negrón said.