Low-wage workers can park their cars for free in downtown Portland

PORTLAND, Maine — In total, between street-side spaces and multi-story garages, the city has about 15,000 parking spaces downtown.

However, many have a two-hour limit and almost none are free, making them less than ideal for those working all day in Portland.

But a program administered by the Portland Downtown Business Association and funded by City Hall aims to help low-wage earners by offering them free parking, for up to six hours a day, when they work.

The subsidized parking program has operated for the better part of a decade but is not well known. Only a handful of people currently use it each month. That’s why Portland Downtown is making an effort this month to let people know the secret.

“Our goal is to help low-wage downtown workers,” said Downtown Portland Executive Director Cary Tyson.

Portland Downtown non-profit business and community development funded by additional assessment tax paid by landowners in the Downtown District overlay area.

The car tie-down program, known as “Park and Work,” is open to inner-city workers earning less than half the local median income as defined by federal housing and development guidelines urban.

This year in Portland, the median income for a family household of four is $112,700. To qualify for the parking program, a similar family must earn less than $55,850 per year. A single worker would need to earn less than $39,100 per year to qualify.

A pulls out of the city-owned parking lot on Elm Street in Portland on Wednesday, July 20, 2022. A little-used city program subsidizes parking fees for low-income downtown workers. Credit: Troy R. Bennett/BDN

Portland’s current hourly minimum wage is $13. A single person earning that wage, 40 hours a week, for a year earns $27,040, well below the program threshold.

Once qualified, workers or their employers can purchase used stamps in place of cash at city-owned parking lots on Spring Street and Elm Street.

Each stamp is good for three hours of parking and they come in booklets of 48. Full stamp booklets cost $100 and are good for 144 hours of total parking time.

The hourly rate for parking at the Spring Street and Elm Street garages recently increased from $2.50 to $3 per hour.

Without the stickers, 144 hours of parking costs $432. That’s a savings of $332 over regular price – or can be considered 110.6 hours of free parking.

However, workers can only use two patches per day. If their shifts are longer than six hours, they will still have to pay part of their salary to park a car.

Stamp books can be purchased with exact change or by check only at the downtown Portland offices at 549 Congress St. To qualify, employers must call downtown Portland and vouch for salary and of their employee’s business location.

That’s it.

“We haven’t had anyone abuse it yet,” Tyson said. “Call me or call the staff here.”

Tyson said he doesn’t know how long the program has been running, but it predates his tenure in downtown Portland, which began five years ago. He estimates that only 20-30 people per month currently use the program.

“It’s not a lot, and we’d like to see more,” Tyson said.

He admits the program is a bit cumbersome, but thinks it’s worth it.

Tyson also suspects that more people will start using the program as the number of available street parking spots declines as tourism returns to post-pandemic Portland.

He said he was aware that some people are reluctant to use parking that is not close to their place of work, which creates considerable walking.

“It’s more of a walking problem than a parking problem,” he said, “but it’s a good way to get our steps in.”

Christy J. Olson