Emerald Isle reports new parking system off to smooth start; customers give mixed reviews

Visitors to the Western Ocean Regional Access in Emerald Isle queue up at the kiosk to pay for parking Wednesday. (Brad Rich photo) 

EMERALD ISLE — Easter weekend under the town’s new, privately managed ocean access parking system went well, Emerald Isle Parks and Recreation Director Alesia Sanderson said Tuesday.

In response to inquiries from the News-Times, Ms. Sanderson said there were 517 “sessions” – cars parked in the lots at the eastern and western ocean regional accesses over the somewhat chilly weekend – for an average of $5.17 per session. Each lot has around 160 parking spaces.

“NCParking had enough employees, and the regional supervisor worked here this weekend as well,” Ms. Sanderson said of the company Emerald Isle contracted to manage the lots.  “They hired additional employees Friday.”

She said the town was pleased and looks forward to continuing to work with the firm under the one-year contract.

The new system, which started April 1, will be in place each day through Thursday, Sept. 30. Parkers are charges hourly rates that range from as low as $2 per hour in the spring on weekdays to as high as $4 per hour in the peak summer months of tourism season. The maximum daily fee is $16, but will be lower during the $2 and $3 time periods.

The hourly system replaced the town’s flat fee of $10 per day, charged Friday through Sunday and on holidays during tourism season.

Emerald Isle taxpayers and long-term rental residents are still eligible to receive two, free annual parking permits for the Eastern and Western ocean regional access lots.

The change has angered some people, particularly those who live nearby but are not Emerald Isle residents and visit the beach often. Town manager Matt Zapp, however, has said national surveys show most people park in beach access parking lots for a short period of time and some will pay less under the privately managed system.

A few days after Easter, at mid-morning Wednesday at the bustling Western Ocean Regional Access, Rebecca Jameson of Virginia, in Carteret County on business, was on the beach after paying $8.

“It was easy. It’s a beautiful place, and I don’t mind paying that much,” she said. “I pay more than that to park downtown in big cities … and there’s no ocean to look at. I’ll probably be back in the middle of summer for another week and I won’t mind paying $4 (per hour).”

But she said she understands why those who live out of town but nearby would bristle at the new rate structure.

“If you are close enough to go to the beach a lot, the cost could add up, and it could be hard for people who are retired or poor,” Ms. Jameson said.

Beachgoer Tommy Gray, who was just out of the still-cool ocean and toweling off, would only say he lives “near here, about an hour away” and he’s not happy.

“I’ll pay $2 or maybe $3, but not $4, so I won’t be coming as much in the summer,” he said. “That means I won’t be spending as much money here on food and stuff. I don’t think the town people thought this through much.”

Visitors pay at a kiosk with a credit or debit card or with a smartphone app, Passport Parking. Cash is not accepted. The fees are charged from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Those who use the app to pay can add extra time without returning to the lot. Once a visitor has checked into the lot and had the vehicle’s license plate scanned, they will receive a warning 30 minutes before the permit expires. The mobile app can also tell you if spaces are available in the lots before you arrive.

The company, not the town, issues citations for visitors who overstay their toll.

“Citations were issued,” Ms. Sanderson said of the weekend, but “the majority were warnings, as NCParking attempted to educate folks to the process this weekend. Some users did receive actual citations.”

Penalties range from $40 to $70 and can be paid or appealed on the company’s website, ncparkingco.rmcpay.com/. Violations are considered civil penalties, not criminal.

Under its contract with the town, NCParking guarantees Emerald Isle $120,000 in revenue from the 2021 season. The company is to receive 50% of the revenue collected beyond the guaranteed amount.

Although the company had said it would hire former Emerald Isle parking lot attendants as its “ambassadors” to help customers, Ms. Sanderson said none of the town’s employees from last year chose to work for NCParking this season.

Last year, Emerald Isle had trouble keeping employees at the two sites and ended up paying those who did work $15 per hour to try to retain them. Ms. Sanderson said she doesn’t know how much NCParking is paying its employees, and the company isn’t under any obligation to disclose the amount.

Under the new parking management system, the following individuals qualify for one free permit if they provide official documentation to get the permit from the town: handicapped, qualifying disabled veterans, Purple Heart veterans and town business owners.

 

Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.

(8) comments

DeadBolt

Government turned 'PUBLIC' into 'PRIVATE'. Honestly, i find it hard to believe that anyone who 'EARNS' their money honest would be 'HAPPY' to be nickle and dime'd, to death but America is full of bad ideas these days, i see! [yawn]

beachmami13

The rest of the county provides extra assistance in terms of sales tax etc to EI, not to mention the million dollars spent on attracting tourists. It's about high time for all of us to remember this when it comes to the "changes" that are made and how they impact the average everyday person who lives in the county.

beachmami13

Also, I understand handicapped and Purple Heart vets getting free parking, but why are " town business owners" getting free ones? Shouldn't they only benefit if they live in EI or have one of those other issues? Seems like yet another way to only give a special class of people (as determined by those who voted for this) extra privileges.

David Collins

Just another example of the golden rule . He who controls the gold makes the rules . Same all over .

noitall

“Citations were issued,”??? And a tow service will be available for additional punishment for those who overstay. This working into a plot line for a great movie. "Fun at the beach or how to kill the cash cow." Valet parking service was not mentioned but it will happen. This really just one more way to crush local small businesses promote the rental income stream.

noitall

Beach parking has become a for profit business and as such we should demand a full GAAP accounting including all payments an such - a full blown P&L Who are the principals in the parking company. Need some names and real tight accountability. This property is public trust and not just a bargaining chip in some ripoff scam or political payback. This really smells.

David Collins

While the beach may be a public trust , access , parking is not . Sorry but that is just the way it is . They gotcha there . Been tried and proven up and down the coast , some exceptions but never good for the great unwashed .

DeadBolt

Correct, these are in fact 'ANTI BUSINESS'. This is a huge issue that use to separate US , (as in true hospitable Southerners , from the THE REST OF THE CRUMMY WORLD, IMO. Same thing in Beaufort, and a HUGE DRAW to potential newcomers in later years. NO GOOD FEELINGS EXIST AFTER A DAY OF ROLLING YOUR NEIGHBOR. So sad.

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