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City of Boulder - A Data-Driven Parking Program

Updated: May 4, 2020


To increase the community awareness of affordable parking availability and to provide alternatives to on-street parking in the downtown core and surrounding neighborhoods.

Results: After the implementation of the $3 for 3pm to 3am program, the occupancy of the downtown garages increased by 30% between 3pm and 3am when comparing December 2019 compared to December 2018 and overall revenue increased by 20% which allowed for funding to other city initiatives.

Additionally, visitors stayed longer when they entered the garages in the early evening:

  • The number of visitors that stayed longer than five hours increased by 152% in December 2019 compared to December 2018 on weekdays between 3-5pm.

  • The number of visitors arriving at downtown garages on weekdays after after 3pm, and staying between five and 12 hours increased 28% in December 2019 compared to December 2018.


Surrounded by the Flatiron Mountains and with the crystal clear Boulder Creek steps away, Downtown Boulder is a destination. With thriving shopping, dining and entertainment options – there is truly something for everyone to enjoy. Eighty-five percent locally owned and operated, Boulder is home to thousands business owners and employees.

Downtown Boulder has a variety of parking options to accommodate residents and visitors, including both on-street parking and off-street garages. In late 2016, the city started to track parking utilization with Smarking’s Business Intelligence platform and used the insights to drive policy decisions and measure the effectiveness of pilots and new programs. The platform provides the city with real-time visibility into the performance of each parking location.

In early 2019, the City of Boulder Community Vitality Department noticed that the utilization of the garages in the downtown core were low during the week. From Jan. 2019 to Nov. 2019, between 3pm to 5pm, the average occupancy of the garages was 346 out of the available 2,209 spaces, or about 15.67%.

FIG 1: Occupancy for off-street parking weekdays between 3-5pm (Jan 2019 - November 2019)

Meanwhile, on-street parking was about 53.83% full on average during the same time.

FIG 2: Occupancy for on-street parking weekdays between 3-5pm (Jan 2019 - November 2019)

By comparing the occupancy rates, the City of Boulder uncovered that evening workers were parking further away due to the lower cost of on-street parking, even though it was inconvenient and at times could be risky during enforcement hours.

To further understand the perceptions of parking access the city completed a Citywide Retail study and a Residents survey. Survey responses showed that workers' and residents' perceived downtown Boulder parking as insufficient, pricey, and inconvenient - particularly in the evenings.

Evening visitors and workers were also parking in Neighborhood Parking Permit (NPP) zones and risked getting a costly ticket. To avoid citation, the city was aware that some evening workers were moving their vehicles several times each evening.

Yet, this was inconvenient and risked getting a ticket if the driver didn’t move their vehicle on time. Evening workers and visitors needed more affordable garage options that were closer to their destination and eliminated the need to move their vehicles in the evenings.

The City of Boulder Community Vitality Department leveraged Smarking’s business intelligence program to measure occupancy and understand price elasticity in the downtown garages to determine a solution.

Pilot program launch

As a result, The City of Boulder launched a pilot program, called “$3 for 3 to 3”, which allowed for parking in any of the five downtown city parking garages (listed below) after 3 p.m., and until 3 a.m., Monday through Friday for $3.

  • 11th and Walnut (Randolph Center)

  • 11th and Spruce

  • 15th and Pearl

  • 10th and Walnut (St. Julien Hotel)

  • 14th and Walnut (RTD Bus Station)

To ensure the ease and accessibility of this pilot, no special tickets or codes were required - any vehicle that entered one of the garages after 3 p.m., and left before 3 a.m., will only be charged $3 for their entire stay.

Anyone who leaves the garage after 3 a.m., will be charged the normal hourly rate ($1.25/hour for the first 4 hours, $2.50/hour after the first 4 hours) for the full duration of their stay.

Designed specifically to meet the needs of downtown employees who work evenings and nights, “$3 for 3 to 3” aims to make Boulder a more appealing and accessible place to work and visit for everyone. The city also believed that evening visitors/workers may also prefer this product because of the safety nature of well lit and covered garages.

Because evening and nighttime commutes may not be well-served by public transit, the pilot program allows evening and night workers to park near work affordably and easily without worrying about parking meters, time limits, or snow.

Evaluation with real-time data

In the first 30 days of the program, occupancy increased by 30% on average, shown in fig. 3.

FIG 3: Occupancy downtown garages (December 2019 compared to December 2018)

Leveraging real-time business intelligence was crucial throughout the pilot program in order to get occupancy, number of entries per hour, duration by entry for both off-street and on-street parking with 1-click. Prior to leveraging BI, it would take the city weeks to analyze the impact of a price change and now the city has real-time access to garage occupancy.

The business intelligence platform allowed city officials to understand how parking behaviors changed and made it easy to effectively communicate the results of the pilot to all stakeholders through data visualization.


The pilot has been in effect since late November 2019 and the city has actively been tracking and measuring the impact on garage occupancy.

In December 2019, more than 19,500 customers took advantage of the $3 for 3 to 3 program. This represents a nearly 20% increase in the number of visitors parking on weekday evenings in downtown garages compared to December 2018, as shown in figure 4. Specifically, the number of customers arriving in downtown garages between 3pm and 5pm increased nearly 30% on weekdays in December 2019 compared to December 2018.

FIG 4: Number of entries at the downtown garages (December 2019 compared to December 2018)

Additionally, customers stayed much longer when they entered the garages in the early evening with the new $3 for 3pm to 3am program, as shown in figure 5 below. The number of customers entering downtown garages on weekdays between 3-5pm and staying for longer than five hours increased in December 2019 compared to December 2018.

FIG 5: Duration of stay for entrances between 3-5pm (December 2019 compared to December 2018)

The number of visitors entering downtown garages on weekdays any time after 3pm and staying between five and 12 hours increased by 28% in December 2019 compared to December 2018. The chart below displays the number of customers entering the garages between 3pm and 5pm, Monday through Friday.

Number of entries between 3-5pm (December 2019 compared to December 2018) - 30% increase in December and a 43% increase in January.

By leveraging the data collected throughout the pilot, The City of Boulder was able to reduce the amount of time needed to effectively communicate the results to all stakeholders. Real-time data visualization is needed to turn the pricing structure into permanent policy, the city needed the data to justify the continuation of the program and show the success.

To uncover opportunities for your portfolio, chat with our team. We offer free one-on-one consultations, just grab time on our calendar if you're interested. By providing market-leading Business Intelligence and Yield Management solutions to the industry, Smarking has been enabling revenue increases at 2,000+ parking locations across North America.

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