The Ocean City Mayor and Council should take another look at the plan to raise hourly parking fees at the Inlet next summer. It’s the obvious call to raise rates across the board at the oceanfront lot, but the in-season increase does not go far enough.
Even with the significant increase approved conceptually this week, it’s still a bargain to park at this lot when we consider the convenience to the beach, Boardwalk and other attractions.
No matter how far they raise the fees, the town’s elected officials are going to be criticized heavily for increasing prices at the Inlet parking lot. That just goes with the territory when visitors are sensitive to being price gouged.
Complaints might not surface this week or even immediately after the new fee structure is instituted, but there’s ultimately going to be a backlash against this significant fee hike. However, that does not mean it was not the proper decision. There are times when an unpopular move has to be made for the greater good, and this is clearly one of those times.
Clearly, the Inlet lot has become too affordable, and it’s not serving its purpose. This lot was never designed to be full for hours at a time with little to no ingress or egress. This does not help the struggling downtown area. The cost to park at the Inlet needs to be high to discourage long stays, pushing people to the side streets in the downtown area or to the park-and-ride in West Ocean City or, best of all, maybe even encourage them to use mass transit and to, gasp, leave their vehicles elsewhere.
If people want to continue to come to the Inlet, park their cars steps from the beach for an entire day at the beach, they should have to pay, and it should sting. For an eight-hour beach stay on a Saturday in late July last summer, it cost a family $16. Next summer, under the current plan, it will cost $20.
That’s not enough of an increase to deter people from setting up camp (literally, in some cases) at the Inlet throughout the day. It’s not supposed to be a good deal, and the increase being eyed by the resort this week is not enough.
The current proposal seems appropriate when it comes to the off-season rates, which increased from $1 per hour during the week and $1.50 per hour on the weekends to a seven-day hourly fee of $1.50. This shields the locals from bearing too much of a burden.
Regarding in-season rates, the proposal is to move to a flat hourly fee of $2.50 per hour, up from $1.50 per hour during the week and $2 on the weekends. This could bring in more than $650,000 in additional revenue. The council needs to re-examine this and at least discuss a flat $3 an hour rate from Memorial Day to Labor Day. For that same eight-hour spell at the Inlet lot for a day on the beach and Boardwalk, that means an increase of $8, from $16 to $24.
Sure, the council is going to hear cries of ridicule over a 50-percent increase in parking, but that’s not an argument that should sway them. This cannot be argued in percentages. This is a user fee system, which should be governed by supply and demand.
Critics will surely say this is another example of tourist abuse. We disagree. This is a prime parking lot that’s all about convenience. People know this and that’s why it’s full on the weekends by 8 a.m.
It’s been six years since the fees were raised at this lot. The time is now to bring the charges in line, and the city needs to make it more significant than is currently proposed. Three bucks an hour for this parking lot is not too much to charge.