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Free Parking Downtown Fails to Lure Holiday Shoppers, Analysis Finds


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By Jorge Casuso

March 12, 2024 -- An extra 90 minutes of free parking failed to lure more late holiday shoppers Downtown last December, with parking revenues dropping during the three-day offer, according to a parking study released Tuesday.

The analysis sent to the City Council Tuesday found that 640 fewer motorists parked during the three days before Christmas than in 2022, when the extra free parking wasn't offered.

The program -- which boosted free parking from the first 90 minutes to the first 3 hours -- also resulted in the loss of $25,961 in parking revenues from the previous year.

"The occupancy data indicates that the three hours of free parking did not have a significant impact on how many people parked in the downtown area and how long they stayed," according to the report.

"Based on this analysis, it is apparent that the 3 hours of free parking did not encourage people to visit the downtown parking structures during the 2023 holiday season."

The free parking also didn't encourage more people to walk, according to the report prepared by Zach Pollard, the City's parking manager.

A study by Downtown Santa Monica Inc., the agency that runs the Central Business District, found that foot traffic decreased last year, compared to 2022.

"Their study concluded that there is no evidence that the 3 hours of free parking contributed to an increase in downtown foot traffic from the three days in 2022 to the three days in 2023," the analysis said.

A similar study conducted by Smarking, the City’s parking data analytics software contractor, found similar results in 2020, when the City offered free parking to lure visitors during the COVID emergency.

The loss in transactions and revenues, the Smarking study concluded, "indicates that the program did not encourage parkers to shift from paid to free garages."

"Parker behavior may be driven by accessibility to the amenities by the parking facility and less so on the benefit of free parking."

The parking analyses do not account for yearly differences in retail shopping trends.

The analysis released Tuesday is based on revenue, occupancy and duration of stay tracked using Smarking at the seven Downtown parking structures, the Ken Edwards Center and the Main Library.

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