Free parking returns to Ocean City on Thursday (Nov. 1) as meters near the beach and boardwalk will be deactivated for the season.
Parking on all Ocean City streets and in municipal lots will be free until May 1.
Meter heads in the downtown shopping district were removed after the traditional five-month season in early October, but the beach and boardwalk meters were in effect throughout October this year as part of a new program that introduced meters that accept credit cards.
Most meter heads were removed for the season in the past week or two.
The city experimented with the technology in 2012 with a limited number of meters and received positive feedback from motorists who enjoyed not having to find enough coins to feed the meters.
For 2013, Ocean City expanded the program to replace 800 traditional meters. The new meters were available throughout most of the streets close to the Ocean City Boardwalk, on the north-end beachfront along Beach Road and E. Atlantic Boulevard and on the far south end along Central Avenue and 59th Street. The program also included parking lots near the Ocean City-Longport Bridge, across from Ocean City High School, and at 14th and 59th streets.
The new credit-card meters came with fees that increased from 25 cents per 15 minutes to 25 cents per 10 minutes (or $1.50 per hour).
The fee increase was expected to bring in an estimated $400,000 in additional revenue for 2013, according to Finance Director Frank Donato. The increase would more than cover the estimated $150,000 it would take to lease and operate the new credit-card-capable meter caps.
But as of the end of August, Ocean City had taken in $2,476,000 in parking revenue, only about $189,000 more than in 2012.
Donato said the city didn't get the new meters out as quickly as they wanted in May. Rainy weather in June and a cold ocean in early July didn't help, he said. But the city brought in $915,000 in August alone, up from $772,000 during the same month in 2012.
"The last two weeks of July and the first two of August, that is when everything came together," Donato said.
While final parking revenue figures are not yet available, Donato estimates the city will bring in $2,785,000 and come close to its budgeted goal of $2.8 million.
That would represent a $261,000 increase over 2012.
Donato said the city has received some negative feedback about the meters being in effect into August, but he said the extra few weeks brought the city much closer to its goal.
"Stretching the season definitely helped make a difference," Donato said.