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Like it or not, the era of free parking has come to an end in Las Vegas. 

First it was MGM. Then it was Caesars. And then … the Cosmopolitan. Some say it’s just a reflection of the times, to become equal to that of other cities. Others say it’s a darn shame.

Just north of the Strip, lies another parking puzzle – the city's Downtown. 

In 2012, the Las Vegas City Council approved a parking plan that it hoped would make downtown driving and parking a better experience.  

Has the plan improved one's ability to park downtown? 

Brandy Stanley is the parking service manager for the City of Las Vegas. She told KNPR's State of Nevada that originally the city thought about turning over the spots it owns to a private company, but the city council decided to keep the spots and parking garages to keep more control over them.

As the new parking plan moved forward one of the biggest changes was upgrading the meter technology. Stanley said the upgrade cut down on the number of parking tickets the city handed out because people could now pay with credit or debit cards. 

"The additional payment method really made a big difference in the number of meter tickets we were writing, which is what we were after," Stanley said.

She said before the updated meters went in parking meter citations were the top money maker for the department. However, she wanted to change that and have citations for parking violations be the top draw.

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"We refocused everything that we did based on making it easier for people to use the parking system," she said. "You would rather not get a parking ticket. So we made it easier for people not to get one."

Stanley said the change worked and the department flipped where it was getting it's money.

"We were at about $5 million a year in revenue about six years ago," Stanley said, "Today we're at $10 million but we also did on top of changing our meter philosophy is we started paying attention to our off-street parking lots and off-street parking garages, which is now the source of the vast majority of revenues."

While the whole system might be working better for the city, not everyone agrees with it, including many downtown business owners.

George Harris is one of those business owners. He owns Mingo Kitchen and Lounge at First Street and Coolidge Ave. 

Harris disputes the city's revenue numbers along with the whole idea of paying for parking. 

"I believe you said that revenue went from $5 million to $10 million, that's nonsense," he said, "I would like to see the evidence of that."

Harris believes the city does make most of it's revenue for the parking department from meter citations and that it's losing money. He also believes parking meters hurt businesses.

"Someone goes into a restaurant to eat, they enjoy themselves, they come out of the restaurant, there's a ticket on the thing, because who wants to interrupt their lunch to put a quarter into a meter," he said. "... They get a ticket. If the winds blowing, the ticket blows off their car or they forget about it... now you're criminalizing parking."

Stanley defended parking meters. She said the city actually removed hundreds of parking meters, particularly in areas south of Charleston Blvd. She also pointed out that parking meters are a way to manage parking availability.

"You only want to install meters when you have way more demand for the parking spaces than you do the spaces themselves ," she said. 

Stanley said there has been a range of responses to the parking plan from business owners. She said that some owners understand what paid parking accomplishes and others believe it hurts businesses by not allowing easy access by customers.

Harris fits into the latter camp. He believes how the city deals with parking hurts businesses. 

"The entire parking program is not good for business and it's not good for downtown," he said.

Harris also believes parking garages owned by the city now should be turned over to private owners

"Let private industry run private business," he said, "The City of Las Vegas shouldn't be in the parking business."

 

Guests

Brandy Stanley, parking services manager, City of Las Vegas; George Harris, owner, Mingo Kitchen & Lounge

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KNPR's State of Nevada
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KNPR's State of Nevada