Carol Richards: Changes will ease downtown parking woes

Carol R. Richards, guest columnist

So there I was, standing at City Dock on a rare rainless moment earlier this month, preparing to see how the new Annapolis parking system works. At a new multimeter kiosk, I fell into conversation with two other hopeful parkers, both irked that they had to punch their license plate numbers onto the keypad. "Why does everything have to change?" grumbled one.

Both easily copied their license plate numbers off their nearby cars; both stuck credit cards into the slot and were on their way in moments. There was no need to return to their cars with their receipts because enforcement is done by license plate number. The receipts are for you; they helpfully tell the time of expiration. Conclusion: The parking is easy.


I tried using coins instead of a card, and that was easy, too.

Then I tried the alternate mentioned on the sign: using the Parkmobile app. Easy? No.


This app was already in my smartphone, as I had loaded it a month ago to park at a beachside wedding in Florida. Standing in Annapolis' glorious (if momentary) sunshine, I couldn't get the app to accept my license plate number. Sure, I could get it to suck money out of my credit card, but the car that would be listed as parking on City Dock was a Florida rental. Not so good.

You'll be seeing a lot of changes in parking around Annapolis. A new company, SP+ Municipal Services, based in Chicago, has won the city parking contract. It is not only taking over the city garages and the metered parking on City Dock and elsewhere around town — 534 "regulated" spaces in all — but enforcement all over town.

So the people patrolling the residential neighborhoods looking for overtime parkers will no longer be city workers, they'll be employees of SP+, according to Regional Manager John J. Kemp, headquartered in Baltimore.

SP+ will add a new tone to parking in Annapolis. For example, Kemp calls these enforcement employees "ambassadors" and says they'll be wearing vests with little green logos. And the company brags on its national website, "Our parking tickets are made with recycled paper and environmentally friendly inks." I guess we're supposed to be proud of our enforcers and our parking tickets. That would certainly be a change.

How often have you heard: "I never go downtown any more. There's no place to park." It's a common refrain among my neighbors. I live beyond the city line, but I drive in at least three times a week, what with meetings and church, and I always find a place to park, usually on the street, and usually for free.

You can too. Some parking tricks:

•Don't try to park downtown during the boat shows. Duh.

•Hone your parallel parking skills if you plan to park on historic streets. Those byways were designed for horses, which don't dent.


•Don't try to park at City Dock during floods. Duh.

•If you want to use Parkmobile, set it up on a full-screen computer at home or work, where you can read the instructions and there's no glare on your screen. A city spokesman says it's easy to do on your phone after that.

•My favorite side street where there's always a place to park? Duh, again. Find your own secret spot.

If you're hesitant to enjoy our eccentric and charming little historic city because you fear finding no place to stash your car, the new downtown parking arrangements should ease your fears. It really is easy to use a credit card or coins to park at the new kiosks. And City Dock isn't the only place with parking kiosks; they are in use at some of the open-air parking lots as well.

Annapolis Transportation Director Rick Gordon says enforcement stops at all of the kiosks at 7:30 p.m., so you can spend a nice evening downtown without spending a cent to park.

The writer is a longtime journalist in New York and Washington. Her email is