Jul 23, 2023
Downtown Annapolis residents call for changes to new parking system
Luisa Girlando has lived a busy life during her almost 19 years in Annapolis’ Historic District. Between her career as a data network professional and raising children, she didn’t have time to get
Luisa Girlando has lived a busy life during her almost 19 years in Annapolis’ Historic District. Between her career as a data network professional and raising children, she didn’t have time to get involved with local politics.
Last year, as the city announced it was closing Noah Hillman Garage for demolition and switching to a new downtown parking operator, Girlando and other Ward 1 residents started to notice some changes. Louisiana-based Premium Parking had supplanted SP+ as the city’s parking enforcement company downtown and as the operator of the new garage when it was rebuilt.
A 30-year operating agreement for the garage between the city and Annapolis Mobility and Resilience Partners a group of companies that includes Premium Parking, meant new rules and processes for residents to receive their annual parking permits and guest passes.
It also meant the elimination of free parking for up to two hours in District 1 and District 2 parking zones. Instead, non-permit holders would pay $2 an hour through the ParkMobile app, which the city uses for on-street parking in other areas.
Nearly a year after those changes took effect in September, residents have complained the new parking system is “overly cumbersome, complicated and time-consuming,” according to a change.org petition started by Girlando and three other Ward 1 residents in March. So far, the initiative has garnered about 500 signatures.
“The thing that upset me the most is ... the new application [ParkMobile] that we had to use was very user-unfriendly,” Girlando said. “There was very little help given us.”
Girlando said she had to write down directions on how to use the Premium software for her neighbors who couldn’t figure it out.
The petition demands the return of free two-hour parking for residents’ guests and a discontinuation of the promo code system for guest passes. Additionally, residents want the ability to access their guest passes online while also being able to track how many they’ve used. Lastly, they hope to gain access to a multiday pass for overnight guests.
A spokesperson for Premium said the company is aware of the petition and welcomes feedback from users.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the items that are creating the loudest outcry, such as enforced 2-hour limit paid parking in residential Districts 1 and 2, are a part of the City Ordinances, which Premium is required to uphold,” the spokesperson said in an email.
Mitchelle Stephenson, a spokesperson for the city, said there are currently no outstanding complaints with the city ombudsman regarding residential parking passes. She said residents should direct their complaints to Premium.
“The process from here out should be easier, it’s all electronic and people get their guest passes online,” Stephenson said in an email. “Nobody has to pick up the guest passes or go to the vendors’ storefront.”
Stephenson added that city residents continue to receive free parking through Residents Park Free, a program that allows users to unlock two hours of free parking at Hillman with a promo code.
Free two-hour parking passes are also available for Gotts, Knighton and Park Place garages through SP+, which still manages parking in the rest of the city. Those passes are paper and can be picked up at the SP+ office.
“Both methods are available to city residents, and they can choose either or both to meet their needs and desires,” Stephenson said of the digital and paper passes.
One of the most common complaints among residents is the changes Premium made to the guest pass system. Before, residents would manage their monthly passes easily online, said Wes Farrell, a District 1 resident and professor at the Naval Academy.
Now, residents must use promo codes to access their 10 monthly guest passes and 25 annual, anytime passes. The codes cause confusion, and residents say they cannot track how many passes they’ve used via the Premium website.
“A lot of people, I think, are just having a hard time adjusting to it,” Farrell said.
Some are also frustrated with the removal of two-hour free parking for residential guests. Now, residents must use one of their allotted passes or pay $3.50 for meter parking. SP+ also allowed the residents to purchase multiday passes more seamlessly compared to Premium, the petition says.
Beth Dolezal, a 34-year resident of Ward 1, also cited the new guest parking rules when discussing her issues with Premium. She teamed up with Girlando to start the petition.
“We have family, we have friends, we have lives,” she said. “And we need to be able to have an avenue that the city gives us to have long-term parking, like maybe be able to buy a weekly ticket, a weekly pass. I don’t know that anybody minds spending the money. It’s just having the avenue to be able to do it.”
The four residents who started the petition have extended their advocacy to attending City Council meetings and writing letters to the editor.
Ward 1 Alderwoman Elly Tierney has held several town halls regarding the parking struggles and said in an interview that she feels Premium isn’t equipped to handle residential permits. Dolezal shares this feeling.
“They’re great at parking garages and on-street parking for transient people, but they had absolutely no experience in residential-type parking,” she said.
The spokesperson for Premium pushed back on this claim, saying the organization manages several residential areas throughout the country.
While some criticism of the parking operator is warranted, Farrell said he believes they are making efforts to fix the issues.
“But it’s not like they’re not listening,” he said. “I think they’re trying.”
An ideal outcome for Girlando is for the city to put pressure on Premium to meet the demands of the residents or go back to SP+ .
“We are not going to give up,” she said. “We’re going to keep on being a thorn in everybody’s side.”