OAK ISLAND — The inaugural year of a Brunswick County beach town’s parking program has come to a close and data shows it’s largely a success, with minimal adjustments needed next season.
Since implementation in April, the Town of Oak Island brought in more than $1.1 million from parking proceeds, reflecting 147,713 vehicles parked plus fines paid for violations. Otto Connect, the vendor handling OKI’s parking management, receives 30% of revenue per its contract.
The highest revenue-driver, $634,640, came from day permits and upgrades. Season passes netted $176,225 and resident passes made up $91,420.
“From a revenue standpoint, a very good year for the town,” Jim Varner of Otto Connect said during a presentation to the board Nov. 14.
Until this year, Oak Island remained a paid-parking holdout as surrounding coastal municipalities adopted programs to cover parking expenses and further boost general funds. The town’s position switched last summer as more council members and residents pressed for out-of-towners to pay their fair share to access the beach.
Council approved the two-year contract with Otto Connect, which also services neighboring Holden Beach, in December 2022. The following month council voted 4-1, with councilman Bill Craft dissenting, to set rates at $5 an hour, $20 per day, $80 per week and $175 for annual passes, capped at 1,000.
The season ran April 1 to Sept. 30, with enforcement implemented daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., by law enforcement and Otto Connect parking attendants.
Designated resident spaces were not part of the original contract with Otto Connect, a major sore point for Oak Islanders conditioned to reserved spots. Council’s view was that the ratio between passes sold and available spots — 7,500 to 182 in 2022 — made passes impractical.
However, council and Otto Connect ultimately complied with residents’ requests and doubled the reserved spaces, though that became a pain for Otto Connect staff, Varner reported.
Otto Connect sold 9,142 new resident passes, but Varner said around 1,300 permits needed to be “grandfathered” into the new system. Not all of them were imputed, Varner said, which resulted in many residents being ticketed despite having a pass, though the problems has been fixed.
““We knew there was a risk that either from records transferred to us, whatever the case may be,” Varner said.
Aside from about five days — mostly holidays, like Independence Day — marking the highest demand, parking was not full this season, said Varner. The data indicated residents, who can park in reserved or regular spaces, were rarely excluded from parking. Data indicates residents made up 20% of beach parking.
Vacationers comprised most of the parking program participants, averaging 626 parkers per month and peaking at 1,686 people in June. An analysis of zip code distributions show most people come from northeastern North Carolina, then Brunswick County, with Southport, Leland and Bolivia residents making up the most visitors.
Residents from New Hanover and Pender counties ranked seventh-highest, outpaced by visitors from southeastern and western North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina.
Varner also demonstrated the town’s good standing in violations and return on fines. The percentage of those parking receiving a violation was 4% on average.
“[W]e really expected to see that trend in the second year,” Varner said. “So to have that kind of violation rate in the first year really reflected a lot of efforts by the town, by us, to make sure that people are aware that they need to pay for their parking.”
He explained the first year towns begin paid parking their rate is around 5%; the goal is to get them as close to 3% by the second and third years.
Varner said he was also surprised by the low number of citations issued for illegal parking in resident spots by non-residents. He attributed the feat to signage and education efforts made by the town and Otto.
The percentage of violations paid was 79%, the data shows.
“From an industry standpoint, most companies consider 70, 75% as good, its excellent,” Varner said.
He continued most of the towns he manages reached the low 80s by the second and third years.
The first year isn’t without its tweaks, however. Varner said Otto Connect’s system did not have a way to process violations for parking in the direction against traffic, which will need to be incorporated next season. He also recommended changing the parking structure of the lot next to the Oak Island Pier to a two-hour free option to benefit local businesses there.
Overall, Varner said the program is set up to run smoother next season as the town settles into the new way of life.
Mayor Pro Tem John Bach, a proponent of paid parking from the beginning, was not as convinced.
“I think messaging is still going to be important in year two, particularly around the reapplication process because everyone is going to have to reapply,” Bach said at the meeting.
The town is also hosting a public feedback session on Nov. 28 to gain more insight on the program’s effectiveness before the town reviews it and makes a final recommendation for next year.
Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at email@example.com.