Main Street in Downtown Camden. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

Most towns in the midcoast area do not charge for the use of public parking despite the influx of summer tourists. But that could be changing.

Camden is currently in the early stages of considering a paid parking program. In the next couple of months, Rockland officials are slated to discuss the idea of creating a similar program.

The consideration in the midcoast hubs comes after Bar Harbor implemented a metered parking system that has reaped millions of dollars in revenue. Local officials say even if they do not see that kind of money, charging could be a way to increase turnover and better manage supply and demand. Any new programs will have to be flexible to remain politically viable.

“It’s been acknowledged … for years, there’s a better way of managing our parking to the benefit of everybody in town,” Camden Town Manager Audra Caler said.

Finding parking in downtown Camden can often be a challenge, particularly during the busy summer months. But a parking study commissioned by the selectboard this summer found that Camden has enough spots despite a public perception of little parking that is created by cars parked in spots over limits and underuse of parking away from the core downtown.

All of that still contributes to traffic and congestion, Caler said. To remedy that, the consultant working with the town on the study issued draft recommendations for paid parking to a town committee this month.

Officials stress that nothing has been decided and final recommendations for a paid parking program will not be released until after a public meeting on the topic next month. If the town decides to move forward, any changes or funding requests would go to voters for approval.

“We’re still in the study stage and trying to think [about] how we want to implement this. So public input is absolutely critical,” Camden selectboard and parking advisory committee member Sophie Romana said. “Personally, it’s something I think we really need to look into.”

The specifics of a fee structure and which areas would be metered have not been fully fleshed out, Caler and Romana said. Draft recommendations indicated that street parking in the immediate downtown area and the lot near the public landing, as well as public lots on Washington and Mechanic Streets were good candidates for metered parking.

The program would likely be seasonal and done in tandem with special permits for residents and employees of downtown businesses. The idea of having the first 20 minutes of parking free is also being considered to help accommodate people running quick errands.

If Camden is going to implement a paid parking system, these types of accommodations are crucial, said two business representatives on the parking committee.

With paid parking being common in other parts of the country, as long as fares are reasonable and the system is easy to use, Tom Peaco, executive director of the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce, said he doesn’t feel that it will deter visitors from stopping in downtown Camden.

“I think it seems like it might work, but only if it’s flexible,” said Todd Anderson, who owns a downtown grocery business.

Just down Route 1 in Rockland, paid parking has been a simmering topic of discussion in recent years, with the city getting presentations from two companies that work with metered parking installations. During the pandemic, Rockland City Manager Tom Luttrell said the idea has been left on the back burner.

In the next couple of months, the topic will be coming back to council for discussion. Rockland Mayor Ed Glaser said the city needs to look deeper into the issue to understand the ramifications that a paid parking system could have on residents and downtown businesses.

But with Bar Harbor seeing significant financial gains from its program, some Rockland officials say it could be one way to bring in additional revenue to the city, citing major cities that charge.

“I absolutely support paid parking,” City Councilor Louise MacLellan-Ruf said.