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.