California State Parks has added a portion of Huntington State Beach to its short list of beaches charging visitors for parking by the hour as opposed to a flat, $15 day rate.
The pilot program, already in place in Crystal Cove, could one day be extended to Corona del Mar and other state beaches in Orange County.
"We've done it at a couple of other locations in our districts, but we haven't done it in our North County area," said Brian Ketterer, Orange Coast District superintendent for California State Parks. "This one is different in the fact that we're not using any type of automated pay machine or parking meter."
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Instead of using a parking machine or handing their money to the gate attendant, beachgoers pay through the PassportParking program, either by calling (714) 988-6865 or downloading its free app.
In 2013, state beaches in Crystal Cove, San Clemente and San Onofre began offering hourly parking through automated parking machines and eventually switched to PassportParking that spring.
Now the pilot program for Huntington State, which quietly started Jan. 31, will be enforced at the 711-stall lot that stretches from Beach Boulevard to Newland Street.
The new option is cheaper for those looking to make a quick stop at the beach, but can be pricier for those looking to stay throughout the day.
This strip of Huntington State Beach used to charge visitors $15 for the day but will now charge $5.50 for the first two hours and $2 every hour thereafter. There is also a daily service fee of 35 cents. Anyone who leaves and comes back in the same day would not have to pay again. A two-hour visit — the required minimum beachgoers must buy — would save beachgoers about $4 over the flat-fee setup.
Ketterer said the maximum fee is $17.50 and added that the park could switch to a flat rate during busy summer months. How much that flat rate would be is still undetermined.
He added that parks in the Orange Coast District have seen an 8% increase in revenue with hourly parking rates.
The pay-by-phone option is one of the largest projects PassportParking has undertaken, Ketterer said.
"They have smaller lots that they've done in the private sector that's only pay-by-phone," he said. "We kind of took a leap of faith on this one and said let's try it and see how the public responds."
Beachgoers so far have embraced the new way to pay. Ketterer said the lots were near capacity on Valentine's Day and during the President's Day weekend.
"It was exciting to see that on the first big weekend that we had," he said.
Ketterer said the parking lot at Bolsa Chica State Beach is in the process of converting and the new system could become operational by April. He added that the Orange Coast District is looking to expand the program to other state beaches if it proves successful.
"It's about getting people back to the state park," he said.
Visitors using the app simply have to download it and enter their credit card information. All they have to do now is denote which numbered stall they've parked at and select the hours they will be there.
Users get a text message 15 minutes before the pass expires and have to option of adding more time from their phone. Those opting to call will go through a similar process but with the help of an operator.
Parking staff monitor the stalls using a similar app on an Android mobile device and can see how many people have parked at the lot and how much time they have left. Those overstaying their welcome will be slapped with a $72.50 fine.
Young adults have seamlessly adapted to the new system, but using the app or calling in could prove to be trickier for older folks, Ketterer said.
"I'm in my mid-40s, and to ask me to put an app on my phone and actually use it is a little difficult," he said with a laugh. "My demographic and older, we're resistant to that electronic change. Some of our older users are having a hard time, but we have somebody in the entrance station there to help."