The price for parking in downtown Lafayette could be linked to how prized the spot is under changes to be voted on next month by the City-Parish Council.
City-parish government is considering a new system where supply and demand drives parking rates, which could vary by hour based on the location and availability of open parking spots.
"It's allowing the (public works) director to actively manage the rates downtown based on demand," said City-Parish Transportation Engineer Warren Abadie.
Other cities have adopted similar strategies in recent years, sometimes referred to a dynamic pricing or demand-responsive pricing.
The general idea is to use sensing technology — usually new "smart meters" — to keep track of where and when spots are available, and then raising rates where the supply of parking is limited and lowering rates where there are plenty of spots in an effort to actively manage parking.
There is no definite plan or timeline for implementing dynamic pricing in Lafayette, but an ordinance to allow it is scheduled to be introduced at Tuesday's City-Parish Council meeting as part of a larger proposed overhaul of the parking program.
A final vote is set for July 11.
The idea of varying parking rates downtown based on demand has been talked about off-and-on for the past three years, but implementation would have been impossible with the city's old coin-operated meters.
A key part of the proposed changes is the replacement of those old meters with new technology.
Abadie said the city is considering using a combination of new "smart meters," which can accept credit cards, sense if a vehicle is in a parking spot and update parking rates on the fly, and a mobile payment system that allows drivers to pay with their cellphones.
City-parish government has already experimented at a few sites downtown with new "smart meters" that accept credit cards, and Abadie said the goal is to gradually phase out the city's 630 coin-operated meters, most of which are downtown.
"The people downtown want this, because coins are not very convenient," Abadie said.
The proposed changes would also give the public works department more leeway in setting parking rates, a necessity for a switch to dynamic pricing.
Under current local law, the City-Parish Council must approve parking rates, but the proposed ordinance would allow the public works director to set rates within a wide range approved by the council.
For example, 30 minutes might cost anywhere from 25 cents to $2, an hour could run from 40 cents to $4, and two hours would be from 60 cents to $8.
The proposed changes coming before the council also would allow the city to set aside certain parking spaces for electric vehicles and offer vehicle charging services at those sites.