Wichita OKs parking plan, clearing way for price hikes, more parking tickets downtown

Tuesday update: The Wichita City Council unanimously approved a plan to hike downtown parking prices and install new technology that would make it easier for the city to issue parking tickets.

The Wichita Parking and Multimodal Plan more closely aligns the rest of downtown with a recent change at Century II and the former downtown library, where the city removed its coin-operated parking meters, replaced them with a mobile-app payment system and increased prices by 300%.

The plan does not say exactly how much rates would change downtown and where pay-to-park would be located. But it does say what the city charges now is too low and that the city should focus its efforts on the most high-traffic areas, such as Old Town. It also calls for the use of license plate readers and other technology to help issue tickets more easily. Any changes should be made with community input, the plan says.

The plan aims to maximize profits for city government and downtown businesses through downtown parking pricing and enforcement.

Its aspirational goal is to maximize the number of visitors to downtown businesses by pushing downtown workers and residents into parking garages to free up more convenient parking in front of businesses for paying customers.

The higher cost of convenient parking and increased enforcement would encourage higher turnover and discourage workers and residents from taking up the most convenient parking spaces throughout the day.

Finding cheap and convenient parking is not a problem in downtown Wichita, according to data included in the plan. But more money could be spent on maintaining the parking infrastructure to improve the condition and appearance of public lots and garages.

The plan also calls for the city to sell to private developers both its “underutilized surface lots and garages” and its “well-utilized surface lots” to promote downtown development.

And it recommends greater investment in bike lanes, sidewalks, signage and wayfinding that make downtown easier to navigate on foot, bike or scooter as a “park once” area.

Some City Council members say the city should be wary of changes they say would discourage people from going downtown.

“Some people like to pay with coins or with cash,” City Council member Maggie Ballard said, “and they are not going to download an app just so they can park downtown. And we also have to be careful we don’t make it so expensive that people on fixed incomes or with less money feel like they’re not welcome downtown.”

Mayor Brandon Whipple said the city is trying to balance the needs of the more tech-savvy younger generation with older generations that have grown accustomed to paying low costs for low-tech coin meters.

“I think that it’s important for us to modernize our parking equipment,” Whipple said. “I’m OK with doing what other major cities have done by having an app option. Not everyone is carrying around quarters anymore, so this makes sense. But if it’s done so in a way that is just profit-driven instead of service-driven, then I think that is a deviation from one of the things that makes Wichita really great. You can go and enjoy downtown, enjoy our small businesses, without paying a ton for parking or parking someplace random and paying for a shuttle.”

“We do value our parking here in Wichita. It’s one of the things that makes our city unique,” Whipple said. “Unlike Boston, unlike Chicago or these other places, you can actually afford to drive downtown, park and spend your money at one of our small businesses.”

Outsourced parking

The City Council approved outsourcing management of the most of the city’s downtown parking spaces last spring. Tuesday’s vote would codify changes the third-party manager has already started to implement.

Wichita pays The Car Park $29,000 a month to manage parking operations throughout downtown, with added fees for running parking services during certain events such as Thunder hockey and Wind Surge games.

The Car Park has been urging the city to automate as much of its parking system as possible and to eliminate parking-related jobs to save money.

In a proposal approved on the consent agenda without any council debate or discussion last spring, The Car Park outlined its plan to eliminate coin parking meters and switch to contactless parking payments through the ParkMobile web application. Earlier this month, it made those changes at Century II and the former downtown library parking lots.

The metered parking in the largest lot near Century II was previously 25 cents for two hours or $1.25 for 10 hours. Now, prices start at $5 through the ParkMobile app — a 300% increase — with prices subject to additional increases for more popular events.

The city owns more than 8,000 spaces downtown. The parking plan would encourage a similar parking payment system at coveted on-street parking and surface lots near high-traffic businesses — including some free-parking areas.

The not-yet-approved Wichita Parking and Multimodal Plan found that the city had more than enough parking downtown to meet both weekend and weekday demands.

During peak hours, 27% of spaces were occupied on weekends and 39% were occupied on weekdays, the study found. But some areas, particularly Delano and Old Town, sometimes had weekday parking at or above 85%, “though each district had parking available overall.”

The plan was developed in 2017, 2018 and 2019 using pre-pandemic downtown parking data to estimate parking needs until 2040. The plan was further developed after the COVID pandemic but post-pandemic data was not used.