City OKs parking tax raise

Extra revenue to fund free hybrid shuttle buses

September 16, 2008|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,annie.linskey@baltsun.com

The Baltimore City Council voted yesterday to increase the parking tax and use the expected $4.5 million in revenue to operate a fleet of shuttle buses to ferry people around downtown neighborhoods.

Trips in the hybrid shuttles would be free to passengers, with pickups every 10 minutes along three routes. The service is expected to begin in July 2009. Mayor Sheila Dixon's administration proposed the legislation.

The tax increase, which takes effect in December, will likely mean a 50-cent increase in the cost of daily parking, and a $5 to $6 rise in monthly parking costs, city officials estimate.

Project manager Barry S. Robinson said that while getting into the city is relatively easy, "getting people circulated through downtown leaves something to be desired."

"Every day we're becoming more congested," Robinson said. "That is what this is a solution for."

Transportation officials proposed three routes: a Red Line that goes from the B&O Railroad Museum through downtown to the east side, a Yellow Line that runs from the Maryland Science Center up Charles Street to Penn Station, and a Green Line that connects City Hall to Johns Hopkins Hospital via Fells Point.

The idea is to link the Inner Harbor to outlying parking garages, and Metro and light rail stops, Robinson said. The exact routes and number of stops have not been determined.

The measure garnered support from groups such as East Baltimore Development Inc. and the Charles Street Development Corp., which believe the option will bring more consumers to their neighborhoods. Supporters also include the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, which has said that conventiongoers have complained that a walk to Charles Street shops and restaurants can be arduous.

A similar system called the Downtown Area Shuttle, or DASH, operated from 2002 until 2005, when state grant money expired. The new system will be entirely funded by the tax increase and will not be dependent on state funds.

The tax increase drew criticism from garage owners who said the costs will be passed on to the parkers and believe the measure will damage the city's ability to attract out-of-towners. "If parking were to become so expensive that people decide not to live, work and visit the city, this could result in shrinkage of the tax base," wrote Benjamin K. Greenwald, head of an association that represents city parking garages.

The brunt of the tax increase will be felt by commuters and visitors who make up roughly 80 percent of those parking in garages, according to figures. The city levies a complicated two-tiered tax system on parkers - monthly parkers pay a flat $15 charge and daily parkers pay a 12 percent tax on each transaction. Under the new system, everyone will pay a 16 percent tax on parking.

"This is much more equitable," Robinson said. "Everyone will be paying a share of the parking fee."

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