John Warkel started working from home this week and one of the first calls he made was to the downtown Minneapolis parking ramp where he normally parks.
Warkel canceled his parking contract, saving $155 a month.
“I requested to cancel as soon as possible,” said Warkel, of Eagan, who works as an accountant for a real estate firm.
Few others have followed in his footsteps — yet, according to city officials and private ramp operators.
Interstate Parking has about 9,000 drivers with monthly parking contracts at its 20 ramps and 33 surface lots in the Twin Cities. So far just 2% of customers have canceled contracts after the COVID-19 outbreak, even though many businesses have begun work-at-home policies, said CEO Paul Schnettler.
“That will jump if we go into another month,” he said.
Like most things, the parking business has come to a standstill. Schnettler said weekday usage has dropped 70 to 90% compared to the weeks before the coronavirus hit. With no downtown events or sporting activities happening, Schnettler said he’s laid off some evening staff members.
For those still parking downtown, Schnettler said surface lots have been more popular than ramps. Lots, he said, don’t require interaction with an attendant, allowing drivers to keep six feet from anybody.
“Cars are even practicing social distancing,” he said. “They are parking in every other space.”
City-run ramps in downtown St. Paul have been “fairly empty” this week, too, said city spokeswoman Lisa Hiebert. Parking ramp managers, she said, report they have had only a handful of inquiries from parkers about canceling their monthly contracts so far.
“It seems that many contract parkers are taking a wait-and-see approach right now,” Hiebert said.
Contract parker in St. Paul must provide a 30-day notice to cancel.
In Minneapolis, drivers who use the city’s 11 ramps and lots can get refunds for canceling monthly contracts depending on when they cancel, said spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie. So far, few have done so, she said.
Ramp operators say that even with the sudden downturn, hourly and monthly rates will not change. And it’s not all bad news. This week, a few people have actually started parking contracts ranging from $100-$415 a month due to not wanting to continue on mass transit, said Damon Noga, National Vice President of Business Development for Denison Parking, which operates 27 parking facilities in Minneapolis.
Neither Minneapolis nor St. Paul is discounting parking meter rates.
“To avoid getting a ticket, please pay the meters, use a pay station, or use the Passport Parking app on your phone,” Hiebert said.
In Minneapolis, businesses such as restaurants that are open for take out services can apply for a short-term pickup zone permit. The permits allow for customers to park at meters for 10 minutes without having to pay, McKenzie said.
Other than that, regular parking rules continue, but drivers should stay tuned.
“Due to the changing conditions, the City has been and will be reviewing options for the parking system,” McKenzie said.