By Shawn Chitnis

DENVER (CBS4) – The City and County of Denver saw a 37% drop in revenue from parking between 2020 and 2019 with the pandemic keeping more people at home and reducing their need to drive. The difference of almost $15 million is still a small portion of the city’s budget, but comes as agencies make up a shortfall for a second year.

“It’s really important for both our physical health and our mental health, to have places where they can walk and bike and it’s not too crowded,” said Jill Locantore, the executive director of Denver Streets Partnership. “Even before the pandemic, we knew there was a real shortfall in the funding that we need to build out the mobility options that Denver residents want.”

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The nonprofit says its mission is to reclaim the streets for people who walk, bike, and use public transportation. The drop in revenue along with the shortfall highlights the ongoing challenge for everyone to have improved ways to commute, Locantore said. She says increasing parking fees along with finding new sources of revenue are necessary for the city.

(credit: CBS)

“Public space is a scarce commodity, and the city in many cases is essentially giving it away free,” she told CBS4 Wednesday on a video conference call. “To allow people to store, essentially their personal belongings in a public space.”

Parking fines brought in $21.5 million in 2019, but dropped to $15.7 million in 2020. Meters went from $10.8 million to just more than $6 million in the same period. Revenue from parking lots dropped more than half from $7.3 million to $3.4 million, according to the Denver Department of Transportation and Infrastructure.

“I talk to people who choose to drive downtown because it’s cheaper to park downtown than it is to take transit and that’s just silly,” Locantore said. “It’s better for so many reasons, it’s better for the environment, it’s safer, it’s a more efficient use of our space downtown.”

The money raised by parking goes to the General Fund, which benefits more than 30 agencies and more than 200 services and programs in the City and County of Denver. It is two to three percent of the city’s total budget, but the drop from parking comes at a time when agencies had to reduce their budgets for 2020 and 2021.

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Locantore worries about the funding needed to improve sidewalks and create protected bike lanes as well as support the transit vision for Denver.

“Driving is the most expensive way to get around, right, just owning a car can cost a family $10,000 a year,” she said. “It’s important for the city to invest in other options that are much more affordable for people to get around.”

She explains that owning a car is the most expensive form of transportation and if parking spaces are not being used, it could better support people moving by foot or bike. She hopes investments in these services will become more of a priority to help cut the cost of transportation for families. She acknowledges that funding needs to be allocated not just at the city or state level but also from the federal government.

“We’ve spent decades funding primarily car infrastructure,” Locantore said. “So we have a lot of work to do to invest in other types of transportation that are frankly healthier, safer, more affordable, more efficient ways for people to get around.”

Denver’s shortfall for 2020 was $220 million and $190 million for 2021. City agencies were asked to propose cuts up to 11.5%, prioritizing those that did not impact resident services. There are more than 400 open positions with the city that are remaining vacant as well.

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LINK: Denver Street Partnership

Shawn Chitnis