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L.A.'s Demand-Based Parking Program Moving in 'Exactly the Right Direction'

LA Express Park uses 'real-time technology to make parking in L.A. fast, easy and smart.'
LA Express Park uses 'real-time technology to make parking in L.A. fast, easy and smart.'  | Photo: Rob Taylor/Flickr/Creative Commons License
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A segment on our award-winning TV show "SoCal Connected" has been produced in tandem with this story. Watch it here now.

Two years into downtown Los Angeles' demand-based parking program seeking to reduce traffic congestion, lower air pollution, and boost transit efficiency, parking officials say the project is improving parking availability while bolstering the city's revenue.

Launched in May 2012 as part of a $210 million demonstration initiative, the LA Express Park program tracks downtown street parking through wireless sensors in a 4.5-square-mile area. Parking meter rates are adjusted using data from the sensor -- rates increase when demand is highest, while rates are lowered in areas with less demand.

Express Park is currently expanding into Westwood Village, with plans to extend to Hollywood in 2015, according to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.

"Everything is moving in exactly the right direction," said Peer Ghent, project manager of LA Express Park. "Parking occupancy in all areas has gone up, and that's reflected by the general improvement of the economy and the impact of development downtown."

But while more people are parking downtown, it's hard to tell if that's because of the burgeoning program or other factors, Ghent noted.

"It's difficult without a control group to say what would have been if we hadn't changed prices," he says. "What I do know is that our revenue has gone up by 2.5 percent and the average price has gone down at about 11 percent of spaces."

Parking in the 6,000 parking meter spots and 7,500 city-owned lot spaces that are part of the project can cost between $1 and $6 per hour. Before the program, the average hourly rate for meters in the area was $1.95 per hour. Since then, the average dropped to $1.76 per hour, LADOT data shows. Some 3,700 spaces downtown now have a rate of $.50 per hour at some point during the week.

Funded initially with $15 million in federal backing and $3.5 million in city support, the program began as a one-year demonstration project through May 2013. It has since been extended through June 2015 with funds from the city's parking revenue.

Express Park facilitates an easier commute for Angelenos while boosting city profits, City Councilmember Mike Bonin told KCET in an interview. Parking policy should ensure public safety and a steady flow of traffic, he added, instead of primarily focusing on raising revenue.

"If there's not a lot of demand, you can have a low rate and make it easy for people. If there's 10 people vying for the same parking, you should charge a little more," Bonin said. "Cost has gone down but revenue has gone up because of peak demand pricing."

For example, there are a few options available for drivers who want to take advantage of the program. Right now, three smartphone applications developed by outside companies -- ParkMe, Parker, and ParkMobile -- use city data to provide information on available parking spaces, or allow user to pay for parking with cellphones.

During the budget crisis, Bonin added, the city approached parking revenue as "gold in the gutter," looking to parking revenue to fill the city's coffers with funds for street resurfacing and paying for police.

"I think we've probably gone a little too far in that direction," he said. "It's about time we modernize the way we did things -- smarter and more efficiently."

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