BAR HARBOR — Weather temperatures weren’t the only numbers heating up in July – parking revenue was up too.
Bar Harbor pulled in $455,975 from parking fees last month. Compared to last July, which clocked in at $421,011, that’s a yield of more than $30,000 this year. Though parking revenue is up for July, it still may not correlate to an increase in overall tourism.
Alf Anderson, executive director of Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, said that an increase in parking meter fees could be due to 50 more parking spaces freed up from last year’s parklet program. Businesses could previously use those spaces for accommodating shopping or dining customers.
“The other thing that I’ve heard is the challenge of finding a space hasn’t been nearly as acute as it was last year,” said Anderson. “This year there’ll be a space available somewhere near where you’re looking to park.”
Even with a midsummer boost, overall revenue from the town’s parking program is still slightly down from last year. In 2021, May 15 through July saw a total of $983,812 in fees collected. This year’s sum for that same period was $971,197.
The dip and rise in parking fees also seem to mirror Acadia visitation numbers. After a slower start to the tourism season, which was down 8.9 percent in June –but which was still the second highest on record – July rebounded and surpassed last year’s record high with an increase of 1.2 percent. Still, Acadia visitation overall is down 4.1 percent from last year.
Anderson said that 1 percent increase had more to do with the Island Explorer transportation system expanding its capacity and carrying more guests into the park.
“If you look at that top line on their visitation for July, Mount Desert Island regular vehicle traffic, I think, was down 1 percent compared to last July,” Anderson said.
Although last month’s parking funds exceeded the previous July, August of 2021 will be even harder to contend with. The highest month ever for revenue, with just over $500,000, was set last August.
“I think, in hindsight, we’re going to see 2021 was the anomaly outlier of a year in terms of visitation,” said Anderson.
According to Anderson, businesses have reported robust traffic and sales but not to the levels of last year. This could be due to a confluence of factors, including inflation and higher gas prices keeping travelers at bay.
“There’s significant availability and lodging properties for September and October. They’re not nearly as full as they were the last two falls we had,” said Anderson. He did note that cruise visits should bring autumn tourism back to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019.
Parking meters with rates from $1.50 to $2 per hour are in operation from May to October. The full scope of how much the town brings in from the program will be calculated in early November.
“We’ll get a better snapshot of overall tourism once we go through the next two months,” Anderson said.
Sarah Gilbert, the town’s finance director, said the above figures represent gross revenue amounts and do not include credit card and vendor fees, which are approximately 10 percent.