CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - With more than 86,000 people living and working in downtown Charleston, finding a parking spot in the Holy City is not easy.
While many people share their frustrations over finding a parking spot downtown, there are some solutions in the works to make parking downtown less painful.
For people like the Cavallo twins of Summerville, the answer is the CARTA park and ride option. The sisters are College of Charleston students who leave their car at Summerville's Dorchester Village Shopping Center, then catch a CARTA bus. They say parking is expensive and open spaces rare at the College of Charleston.
"You have to drive around the whole parking lot at least three times and then you're like, okay, this isn't my day," Carmela Cavallo said.
Because College of Charleston students don't have to pay to ride the CARTA bus, it's a great option for the two.
"It's been nice," Julianna Cavallo said.
It's also a nice option for Don Howard, who works at MUSC. It's free for him, too, as MUSC subsidizes the cost for over 500 employees to make the commute to town by bus.
"I save about a hundred dollars a month just on parking alone," Howard said.
Many drivers pay even more to park. On Craigslist, there are parking spots downtown advertised for $150 dollars a month. There's plenty of demand for those parking spaces.
According to an MUSC spokeswoman, 25,000 people come on and off the MUSC campus daily, where there are just over 9,000 parking spots.
The College of Charleston has about 15,000 students and employees, but just over 2,100 places to park, according to a college spokesman.
Add the nearly 36,000 people who live on the peninsula, and more people who come in for work or play. Then add millions of tourists who drive downtown, an average of more than 10,000 every day. Not everyone is on four wheels; still, finding parking means planning ahead.
Abi Angel encountered the problem when she was trying to get to a wedding at the Mills House.
"It took me 45 minutes to go two and a half miles so I try to avoid parking and take a cab and Uber," Angel said.
If you find a metered space, you have to watch the clock, or you could end up at the city's ticket office, where we found Marc Knapp fighting a ticket.
"Parking is bad, it's horrible," Knapp said.
It's not just cars; More people are moving in, which sometimes means zoning changes are approved for downtown renovations, with fewer parking spaces than required.
There are more than 1,600 metered spaces and 6,600 City garage spaces. Two county owned garages provide about 1,500 more spaces. Parking generates revenue. There is privately owned parking, where you can pay about double the city's parking rate, $12 an hour versus $6.
But the city garages may soon charge more, too.
There's money to be made if you find a spot, or not. Tow trucks haul away vehicles that are parked where they're not supposed to be.
The city's new mayor sees commuter buses as a solution to the parking shortage in downtown Charleston. Mayor John Tecklenburg says the city is looking at leasing property in the city's neck area for an additional park and ride lot.
Right now CARTA has six lots outside the city where commuters can park free and pay to ride the bus. The proposed neck area lot would be the seventh park and ride lot outside the city.
More garage space is also in the works.
"We're getting ready to start construction on a new parking garage at West Edge across from the Joe," Tecklenburg said.
And a private developer is proposing another.
"There's one proposed for Mary Street, one that would house up to 600 spaces," Tecklenburg said.
Parking is profitable because of demand. Just ask any driver who's faced the "FULL" sign at a parking lot.
"Especially during SEWE and we've got Fashion Week coming up," said Knapp.
"East Bay and Market tends to be incredibly difficult to get to depending on the time of day," Angel said.
"Yeah, parking downtown is zero," Howard said.
For the folks who live downtown, Tecklenburg wants better enforcement of residential parking permits, and suggests a new policy of resident-only parking in high-demand areas where residents feel squeezed out.
"And you wouldn't do whole neighborhoods, necessarily, but take one side of the street for example," Tecklenburg said.
He also wants quarterly passes for city garages-similar to the coupon offered during the holidays, and frequent customer cards: Park nine times get the tenth free. Tecklenburg said citizens who regularly use city facilities will get a little break.
Parking meters will be getting a make-over. Tecklenburg pulled his smart card out of his wallet which is used to pay for parking at city meters.
"You can use these on your parking meters but you can't use a VISA card," Tecklenburg said, adding that will change. In a few years, downtown meters will be replaced, and new meters will take credit cards, and possibly smart phone payments.
"It's 75 cents an hour now, and it will go up to a dollar an hour and that will help pay for the new meters as well," Tecklenburg said.
While this year, the city will take in more than $26 million on parking, the mayor says the profit is about $5 million, money that he says keeps down fees and taxes.
"The bottom line is parking is a substantial revenue source for our citizens," Tecklenburg said.
Meantime, the two county garages in downtown Charleston are expected to generate more than $3.5 million in tax dollars this fiscal year. Community leaders see the proposed I-26 ALT bus project planned for I-26, as major relief for not only parking, but also traffic congestion on downtown streets.
That project is still in the planning stages.
The Charleston area is expected to grow to one million people In the next 11 years.