STATE COLLEGE — Last year, one commuter treated downtown streets like a personal parking space, racking up 130 parking tickets in the process.
Borough officials said habitual offenders like this are clogging on-street parking downtown and potentially costing businesses customers and money.
Now, Borough Council is considering changes to the downtown parking plan that would, in part, greatly increase fines for those who chronically starve the meters.
“We are going to target the chronic abusers,” said borough parking manager Charles DeBow. “Those people are taking away space for someone who wants to come downtown.”
The plan seeks out repeat offenders, the drivers of the 90 or so vehicles that were ticketed more than 24 times each last year.
For nearly all downtown visitors, fines won’t change, remaining just $6 if paid within three days. But drivers who exceed 24 parking tickets in a year will face much stiffer penalties — $25 for tickets 24-49 and $50 each after that.
Fines for the most egregious offender, who alone accounted for 130 violations last year, would jump six-fold — from $800 to $4,800 under the new plan.
And while less than 1 percent of drivers are considered habitual offenders, they can have a big impact on downtown parking, DeBow said.
The borough recently completed a test program that allowed officials to track how long cars remaine in parking spots after meters expired.
“We only caught about 4 percent of them,” DeBow said. “This guy, even though he got 130 tickets, he’s (potentially) leaving his car downtown all day, every day.”
Parking fees, schedules would be tweaked
Increased fines for multiple offenders are just part of an overall plan to free up spots for locals who want to shop and dine downtown, but are put off by lack of convenient on-street parking.
The plan was created by the Downtown State College Improvement District, in conjunction with businesses and borough officials.
“We want to be able to serve the end user — the person who wants to come enjoy downtown and shop downtown,” said George Arnold, executive director of the improvement district.
Officials want to provide incentives for using parking garages, while enforcing on-street meters later into the night.
Currently, on-street parking is metered from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., when it becomes free. That would change under the new plan to 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Arnold said parking becomes scarce after 6 p.m. as downtown employees and students take advantage of free street parking.
‘You can’t find a spot,” he said. “If you want to come run a quick errand, nothing is more frustrating than not being able to find a convenient spot.”
Arnold said the plan is something business owners are asking for — a way to provide convenient parking for potential customers.
“This is what business owners want,” DeBow agreed. “They are asking council to make these changes.”
Parking garages would offer the first half-hour free under the plan, an incentive to get more people to consider using the structures. After the first half-hour, fees would be 50 cents per half-hour from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and 50 cents a hour after that.
Downtown employees, who would lose free street parking in the evening, could take advantage of nighttime garage rates that would be offered under the plan. For $25 a month, drivers can park for a certain amount of hours between 4 p.m. and 4 a.m.
“For employees, we worked to find an affordable monthly pass,” Arnold said. “We think for folks coming downtown, working in the evening, this is a great solution.”
Borough Council is set to put the plan to vote at its meeting Monday.
Matt Carroll can be reached at 231-4631. Follow him on Twitter @Carrollreporter.