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More expensive street parking possible solution to parking problems

The Downtown Austin Alliance releases report on downtown parking showing the city has 71,500 parking spaces downtown. (CBS Austin)

An unusual solution is being considered to help solve Austin's downtown traffic congestion. A parking study shows a third of downtown congestion comes from cars looking for a place to park. One solution is to make street parking more expensive and less appealing.

When many drivers come downtown they go into hunter mode. They waste time and gas hoping a parking place on the street will open up.

"I circled probably 20 to 30 minutes," said Clayton Hockaday.

Hockaday drove to Downtown Austin for a job interview. If he had found a parking place on the street it would have cost him $1.20 an hour. Instead, he ran out of time and was forced to pay $8 an hour at a downtown parking lot.

"I didn't want to be driving around anymore. I was like, I'm done with this," said Hockaday.

"People looking for parking cause about 30 percent of the traffic congestion downtown," said Dewitt Peart, CEO of the Downtown Austin Alliance. “So if we can get people to be able to locate a parking space immediately and get in that parking space, theoretically we could reduce about 30 percent of our congestion.”

The Downtown Austin Alliance just released a report on parking that surveyed 1,300 residents. The nonprofit group of local businesses says as long as street parking is much cheaper than lots and garages, bargain shoppers are going to clog city streets.

"The system of pricing needs to be where the on-street parking is more expensive than the off-street parking. Right now that's not what we have," said Peart. “If people can pay for off-street parking at the same price they would have paid for on-street parking, maybe we have a solution there.”

Evening out on-street and off-street pricing doesn't make financial sense to workers like Ryan Kelly who need to park their vehicles all day.

"It's costing me $18 a day to go in that garage right there. It costs me $10 to park right here," said Kelly.

The maximum stay for street meters is supposed to be three hours. The survey shows a lot of people are violating the time limit to save money.

"The system won't work if people park in an on-street parking spot and keep their car their all day," said Peart. “If people complain about traffic congestion one way to solve that is let's begin to fix our parking problems."

In addition to restructuring on-street and off-street pricing, the Downtown Austin Alliance is looking at ways to use technology and signage to make it easier to find lots and garages. Right now the DAA is still in the analysis phase of the survey. Final parking recommendations will come in February.

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