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$15 to park on street for Vikings game? Minneapolis 'smart' meters raise rates for big events

The line of cars with orange parking tickets tucked under their windshields ran for blocks along South Fourth Avenue in downtown Minneapolis Sept. 23, a placid Sunday morning. If one of those cars was yours, you quickly and rudely discovered the end to one of downtown Minneapolis’ little gems — free street parking for Minnesota Vikings games, if you arrived early enough and knew where to look.

Before Minneapolis began replacing its old parking meters with numbered posts and pay stations in November 2010, Fourth and Fifth avenues, plus certain cross streets between them, were well-known havens for the thrifty parkers.

Meters on those streets need not be fed on weekends, so smart drivers bypassed parking ramps and pay lots and searched for street parking first. Before Target Field opened in 2010, savvy Twins fans attending weeknight games at the Metrodome trolled those same streets where spaces were free after 6 p.m.    

Now those blocks are part of a large Metrodome Event Rate parking district that, thanks to the city’s new solar-powered technology, generates more revenue and eliminates Sunday freebies when the Vikes play.

And that’s not all. Another Event Rate district exists around Target Field, though it is not as well marked and not as expensive. A much smaller district surrounds the Minneapolis Convention Center, and another lies near TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota.

Stadium Village parking meter chart
City of Minneapolis Public Works Traffic and Parking Division

Stadium Village event rate affected areas

If all that is news to you, welcome to the club.

Beyond posting maps and information on its website, the city did a poor job getting the word out about these districts. Searching the Star Tribune website turned up nothing about them.  Although Minneapolis parking engineer Tim Drew remembers doing television interviews, he said, “People just don’t watch the news, or don’t pay that kind of attention to it.”

A Minneapolis spokesman said the city's parking ticket database can't distinguish between event rate violations and simple expired meters, making it difficult to tell how many drivers were snagged by the changes.

It's easier to distinguish along Fourth Avenue, since meters are only in effect when the Vikings play. There, on four Vikings playing dates, traffic officers wrote 74 tickets according to city records — 33 on Sept. 23, nine on Oct. 7, 25 on Oct. 21 and seven on Dec. 30. Each citation carries a $42 fine, of which $24 goes to the city (that's a patriotic $1,776 into city coffers) and the rest split between Hennepin County and the state.

The city did not release information on the four other playing dates, three Sunday afternoons and one Thursday night.

The Metrodome district runs roughly north to Marquette Avenue, east to Washington Avenue, south to 13th Avenue and west to Grant and 11th streets. It also encompasses a couple of blocks east of Washington (see map). A Metrodome logo identifies posts in the district, and the pay stations indicate when the event rate is in effect.

Metrodome parking meter chart
City of Minneapolis Public Works Traffic and Parking Division

Metrodome event rate affected areas

For Vikings games, the city originally charged $3 an hour, Drew said, before switching to a flat rate of $15 that will be in effect again this season.

That’s right. Fifteen bucks to park your car on the street.

“It gets you all the way until the next morning,” Drew said. “We got a lot of feedback from fans who wanted to do something after the game, or were worried they might get stuck if the game ran late.” Drew estimated the city earned an additional $10,000 in parking revenue for each Vikings game than on non-game Sundays.

Drew said the rates rise only for Vikings games. All other Dome events, such as the Prep Bowl, monster truck rallies and college baseball games, are exempt.

“That’s subject to change,” he said, “but I don’t see it happening in the near future.”

No flat rate exists around Target Field for Twins games, Drew said. Instead, fees jump to $1.50 or $2.50 an hour, depending on proximity to the park. That Event District (see map) stops just short of Washington Avenue North, where most parking is 75 cents an hour until 10 p.m., protecting patrons of North Loop restaurants and shops.

Target Field parking chart
City of Minneapolis Public Works Traffic and Parking Division

Target Field event rate affected areas

But not every post in the district is properly marked. I found quite a few along Fifth Avenue North and nearby streets lacking a “Check Pay Stations Daily for Events” notice. Again, the pay stations indicate when the event rate is in effect, so it’s best to check. Drew said the event rates will be charged for Twins games and the Kenny Chesney concert on July 12.

Curiously, there is no city parking command center, no big room with a lighted map along one wall. The city contracted with a company in Tampa, Fla., then known as CALE Parking Systems USA, to install and manage the parking system. The five-year, $7.5 million agreement runs through July 31, 2015. To re-set rates on certain dates, Drew simply sends an email to CALE.

 That CALE won the contract at all takes some explaining. A division of Swedish-based CALE Access, CALE Parking’s reputation took a hit when its pay boxes repeatedly malfunctioned in Chicago in 2009. About 250 machines failed to issue receipts for several hours in late May. Complaints about accurate timing followed in September. And that December, dozens of boxes froze up on a cold day. 

Drew said Minneapolis officials were aware of the problems. In a seven-month test of equipment among four bidding companies in Minneapolis, Drew said CALE nevertheless rated the best. So far, there has been one major glitch, in February, when about 140 of the city’s approximately 600 stations failed for a day and had to be rebooted.

Less than a year after the city signed the agreement, CALE turned up in a federal investigation over the awarding of parking contracts in Portland, Ore. Portland parking manager Ellis K. McCoy pled guilty last year to taking bribes and filing false tax returns. According to reports in the Portland Oregonian newspaper, although court records did not identify the two parking meter company executives who allegedly bribed McCoy, the FBI and IRS raided CALE’s offices the same day as McCoy’s office and home. CALE Access purchased the company’s assets in December 2011 and changed the name to CALE America.

 Oklahoma City and Portland, Maine, delayed its CALE contracts until the federal investigation concluded. Drew said CALE informed the city of the investigation. Even if the city wanted to suspend the contract, Drew said, it couldn’t because the work had begun.

When I asked Drew what the Minneapolis City Council thought of CALE’s legal troubles, he paused.

“I’m not sure if we brought it up to the City Council,” Drew said, “but they probably learned about it through different channels.”

It’s interesting that St. Paul, which also contracted with CALE for pay stations, continued its longstanding policy of free street parking at night. It extended pay parking an additional 30 minutes, from 4:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., but that’s all. With all the sports events and concerts at Xcel Energy Center, plus the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, that’s a lot of revenue to turn down.

Better enjoy it now. Paul St. Martin, St. Paul’s traffic and lighting division manager, hinted his city may follow Minneapolis’s lead eventually.

“The mayor [Chris Coleman] and the City Council discussed this, and I guess they wanted to take it one step at a time,” St. Martin said. “I can see that coming up for further discussion with the business community and the residential community.”

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Comments (23)

Another great reason to avoid downtown - like the plague !!

Why not just call downtown itself an "Event", and screw over every single person who enters, with or without a car - you know, without buying a ticket, you can't enter.

The idea that St. Paul is leaving money on the table, i.e., "that’s a lot of revenue to turn down.", by NOT screwing over the public in every big and little way they can possibly dream up, just shows how perverse the contempt for the ordinary everyday citizen has become.

There are a lot of people in the metro area who can't stand downtown, and here is just one more cause of it.

This is great news!

On-street parking is not free to provide, and I'm happy that the City now has the means to generate revenue where generous service is being provided.

Plus, parking works better when it's priced so that spaces are always available.

I'm looking forward to St. Paul updating their charges to make it easier to park in the evenings.

Great for surrounding business

Yeah, this came up during the stadium debates, it really hurts surrounding businesses that have nothing but street parking to offer. Who wants to pay $15 to go into a jewelry store for 30 minutes? Another thing they do is bag the meters so people have to park in the ramps because the ramps are paying for the stadiums as well.

This is one reason all those claims about stadiums and arenas boosting local business have always been bogus. The lack of free or inexpensive parking will actually hurt downtown business far more than stadium traffic boosts it.

What about churches?

Paul, I wondered more about the Sunday impact on downtown churches, since so many downtown retail shops are closed on Sunday. Checked out four, learned they all contracted for off-street parking long before this went into effect. Two of them, Gethsemane Episcopal and St. Olaf Catholic Churches, use the same ramp.

Econ 101

Not sure I understand your point.

It's called supply and demand. Huge demand means that you raise the price. Anyone who believes in market principles should understand this.

Parking economics is actually very interesting and important. Check out Donald Shoup's book on the subject, "The High Cost of Free Parking" or this link here (also from the New York Times): http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/15/business/economy/15view.html?_r=0

This is the world we live in

When the private sector gouges on event parking, instead of regulating them, the local government horns in on their action.

Predatory capitalism, we're getting it from all sides now.

Here's what I paid last weekend

Just for comparison, I parked two blocks from the Metrodome for $2 for three hours while attending the Minnesota United FC soccer game. It's in the same area that will be $15 for Vikings games.

Problems solved, if more

Problems solved, if more people take the bus or light rail to games. And that is consistent with long-range planning for Minneapolis, where transit, bikes, and walking are the focus, over cars.

This a good move by the city.

Econ 101?

If parking is too expensive people will park elsewhere, or ride in on the light rail. Econ 102: people will avoid downtown on game days unless they're going to a game. Econ 103, the more people pay to actually go to games, the less they will spend outside of the stadiums. Econ 104: median household income is at it's lowest level in 50 years, people have less disposable income and therefore less to spend on parking. Finally, Econ 105: supply and demand rarely works as advertised.

i'm not a libertarian

Look, I'm against subsidized stadiums and think that they have a predominantly negative effect on local economies.

But yes, you're describing a chain reaction of economic relationships (sorta... points 104 and 105, while true, have little to do with parking pricing). The thing is that street parking today is highly undervalued. When parking ramps cost a ton ($5+/hr) while street parking is free or extremely cheap, all sorts of unwanted behaviors emerge. People "cruise" for parking spots for a long time. It can represent a substantial % of overall traffic! Plus parking turns into an extremely frustrating situation where seemingly normal people become George Costanza in an instant. (See this, if you don't get my reference: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egsdc7tZ_xc) That's not good for business either! If you have to fight with people to get your "free parking", you're going to avoid that place too. At some point, the darwinian landscape ceases to be worth it.

Raising prices for on-street parking might seem vituperative, but it's creating convenience for customers. If you're going to an actual business around the Metrodome (not that there are any, mind you), you'll be assured of finding a spot easily. Market prices will ensure turnover, and peace of mind. (Ideally it wouldn't be per/day like this proposal, but per/hour so that someone on a quick errand could go in and go out easily and quickly and conveniently.) Basically, you're trading convenience and ease for a few dollars, which ought to be the whole point of being downtown in the first place.

Long story short: if off-street parking is $10-25 per Vikings game, on-street parking should mirror that price. ANything else quickly leads to disturbing behavior. (See the "Whole Foods parking lot" video for a good dramatization: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UFc1pr2yUU)

(Here's an article I wrote on my website about the same issue in Lowertown Saint Paul: http://tcsidewalks.blogspot.com/2013/03/rough-sketch-of-solution-to-down...

Perfectly put, Bill

I would go so far as to say street parking should even be more expensive than off-street parking depending on the location. Street parking is much quicker to get in and out than a ramp, and if your end destination is a shop on the street you are likely closer to it thanks to not having to take an elevator down and exit the ramp. These are amenities that should be reflected in the price per hour (but for a Vikings game, an on-street spot is likely no more accessible to the stadium than a lot/ramp)

Here's what happened to me....

It's not a stadium thing but my wife and I no longer to go Famous Dave's in Uptown because the last time we went, it cost $15.00 to park in the ramp. That's the price of a whole-nuther meal. Why go there when we can park for free at other restaurants all over the twins cities? Parking matters.

Street Parking

Or you could park north of Lagoon for free and walk a couple of blocks.

Or south of 31st. Take your pick.

Why pay?

Because land in Uptown is expensive and building/maintaining/operating parking ramps is expensive. Uptown has a population base of ~40,000 people within a 10 block walk (and even more with access by transit) and therefore serves them primarily, and those that want to come in by car should pay to park, whether on the street or in a privately operated ramp.

Please also don't confuse the parking you utilize elsewhere as "free." Those parking spaces are mandated by city laws based on ridiculous formulas. The price of paving, painting, and re-surfacing those lots is absolutely built in to the price of whatever you buy or eat. And for people that choose to walk or bike to places like that, they subsidize your choice of driving.

The new meters are great!

This is a whole lot of grousing over nothing.

I regularly park on 5th Street North, NW of Target Field for work. It costs $.25 per hour (oh heavens, I am being so ripped off!), and you can pay for up to 10 hours at one time. The meters on 5th Avenue, in front of the Ford Building, one block from Target Field, cost slightly more per hour and you can only pay for 6 hours at a time.

This is 21st century parking:
*Super convenient to pay: coins or credit card, with receipts!
*Pay anywhere: Pay (or renew) at any pay station, even if you are blocks from your car.
*Free parking on government holidays or if the person before you left time on your space (you can check the pay box).
*Variable pricing means the spots are worth more at some times than others, like a game day. All those metered spots are full for Twins games, just for the record. People pay the not-unreasonable price just to be close and to be able to leave quickly and not have to wait in a ramp line. So variable pricing is working.

People complain about government inefficiency and then complain about government efficiency. I am glad St. Paul got these meters too.

Paul, would you really drive downtown to a jewelry store near the Metrodome during a Vikings game? Is there a jewelry store near the Metrodome? Open on a Sunday?

Why?

Paying $15 for ANYTHING to do with a Vikings game seems wildly excessive, even if that cost covered admission, parking, a hotdog AND a beer. Have they suddenly become a viable team or something?

I hear of a new refreshment pricing scheme in the stadia...

Beer will be free, all you can drink.

But it'll cost you $15 every time you wanna take a leak.

Snork!

GOOD one!

Jewelry stores and Vikings

Mark,

You'll note the Vikings parking zones are not the only ones discussed in the article. The Twins play a lot on weekdays week day evenings when downtown retailers are open.

Which is why

they shouldn't have implemented a flat rate of $15 for game day event times. They should have dynamic hourly pricing no matter what day or time or event is going on. Charge $15 for the average length of time a person would stay at a game, 3.5 hours? $4.20/hour. Retail shoppers eager to drive in to downtown near the stadium on game day would have had to pay higher market prices to park in a parking ramp, why should the street be any different? If priced right, there will always be one spot open with a high enough turnover. Shoppers are in and out without paying the full $15, while Vikings/Twins fans who want to stay later pay their fair share if they choose to stay longer (and by doing so limiting other people from using the parking space).

Free Parking!

I was transferring an old VHS tape to digital for a client, and after the content part there was some left over TV on it with a promo for the 1991 North Stars versus Blackhawks playoff series ("Hottest Game on Ice") The commercial listed all the reasons you should attend the game including "Free Parking." Man, how times have changed.

Don't get me wrong

I think the new parking meters are really cool, it's this game day pricing that's screwy.

Kind of Sad

It's kind of sad that there's such a negative reaction to this.

Park a few blocks further away and walk a bit for less money. Or take the bus or train. This is a proper pricing structure for parking. It's long overdue.