With most monthly garage leases canceled, little money coming in from parking meters and no enforcement, the Lancaster Parking Authority has taken a significant hit since the coronavirus pandemic struck.
Official numbers won't be in until later this month, but Larry Cohen, the authority's executive director, said this week that the authority brought in just $30,000 in April. That's about 5% of the $620,000 the authority budgeted for the month.
“We function like any other small business,” Cohen said. “We do need revenue to sustain ourselves.”
To help support the city and residents under stay-at-home orders, the authority stopped meter enforcement, which essentially provided free parking downtown. Some people still put money in meters, but not much, Cohen said.
“Really, the only source of revenue we could maintain was the garages,” Cohen said. The authority went from about 5,000 daily garage transactions to about 500.
The authority's staff, which Cohen said can number about 45 at any time, was cut 60-70%; staff fluctuates with part-time and seasonal workers.
“We maintain a skeleton staff for operations, cleaning and disinfecting, customer service for emails and calls and accounting,” Cohen said.
Besides layoffs, the authority has cut back on expenses by halting most of its purchases and is holding off on capital spending and repairs, such as a planned painting at its Penn Square Garage. The authority also has a $5 million reserve fund.
For now, Cohen said things will stay as they are.
“I'd love to start charging at the meters right now, because that's how we stay in business,” he said.
But, he said, “Everyone's really suffering right now,” so he plans to keep meters free and halt enforcement until the stay-at-home order is lifted.
City street cleaning resumed April 20. Patrick Hopkins, the city's business administrator, said that while the city so far isn't resuming enforcement, voluntary compliance hasn't been good.
As for garage leases, those run month to month, with some exceptions such as hotels and the county, which pay long-term for spots, Cohen said.
The authority let any monthly lease holders who wished to cancel their leases in April do so, Cohen said. But many of them also want to be able to get a lease back when things return to normal. Monthly leases are $70.
“We're going to make every effort to do that, but we're not guaranteeing it,” he said.
Before COVID-19, parking was already over capacity and there was a waiting list for monthly leases.
Meanwhile, the authority has recently gotten bids back for work on the roughly 360-space Christian Street garage near Ewell Plaza, named after Olympic runner Barney Ewell.
Demolition at the site was completed in February and bid requests were supposed to go out in March. The coronavirus shutdown caused that to be delayed, Cohen said. The authority has roughly until July to accept or reject the bids.
Cohen previously estimated the project will take another two to three months to complete because of the coronavirus. That would mean in the second or third quarter of 2021.