The Charlottesville City Council agreed to proceed with a six-month test of parking meters around the Downtown Mall but also asked staff to pursue affordable parking options for downtown employees.

“Make sure we exhaust all possibilities to find affordable ways for our employees to park,” said City Councilor Kathy Galvin.

The Council voted 4-1 on Monday to conduct the pilot program, with Councilor Bob Fenwick voting no.

The next step in the parking-meter process will be the creation of a request for proposals for potential vendors to install smart meters.

The idea to charge for on-street parking stems from parking studies conducted in 2008 and 2015 that recommended charging for parking in the most frequently used spaces close to downtown in order to encourage more turnover.

“Typically, you want to price your on-street parking at or higher than the off-street garages on a per-hour basis,” said Iain Banks of Nelson Nygaard, the company hired to conduct the 2015 study.

“It encourages people who are going to stay longer than two hours to park in the garage or an off-street facility because it works out cheaper in the short-term,” he added.

The Nelson Nygaard proposal recommended a fee of $2 an hour with a 30-minute grace period. Enforcement hours would be extended to 8 p.m. from 6 p.m.

“The pilot is a 15-block area surrounding the pedestrian mall and it is 157 parking spaces, but not all of them would have a meter,” said Chris Engel, the city’s economic development director.

He said the pilot would be more about testing the system rather than measuring public support for meters.

However, the idea has caused some concern in the community. An online petition currently has 441 signatures who want the city to keep on-street parking free.

“I know there’s a push to have us employees go into the parking garages, but that’s about $135 a month, which for me is a student loan payment,” said Samantha Wood, who works for the Haven and uses on-street parking

“There are people who only make minimum wage and that’s a huge chunk out of their monthly [pay],” she added.

Councilor Wes Bellamy asked that the price per hour be lowered.

“I would like to see the meters be $1 an hour,” Bellamy said.

Galvin said she could support exploring the lower price but it might defeat the purpose of using meters as a management tool.

No final decision was made on the hourly rate.

Councilor Kristin Szakos asked if $1 an hour would pay for other parking options such as a park-and-ride lot and extended transit hours.

“We really do need to provide incentives to park somewhere else if they’re going to stay for longer,” Szakos said. She noted the Nelson Nygaard report stated the city should identify places for downtown employees to park and wanted to know how that would be implemented.

“It feels like we need to build that in now rather than later or else we’ll crowd out the free parking with two-hour shufflers,” Szakos said.

Engel said he had no ready-made solution, but the city has explored adjusting routes for Charlottesville Area Transit’s free trolley-style bus, along with the identification of parking lots for park-and-ride service.

The proposal resembles many aspects called for in a plan called Access Downtown that was advanced by Mark Brown and the Charlottesville Parking Center in January 2015. That proposal also called for the creation of affordable satellite parking lots with a shuttle service.

For on-street parking, Brown proposed to install about 60 smart meter kiosks around downtown. He also called for development of a mobile phone app that would provide real-time information on parking availability both in the garages and on city streets.

Last month, the CPC filed suit against the city over a dispute over rates at the Water Street parking garage. The city has responded with a request for more specifics in how the CPC has been harmed.

The program also might lead to the creation of a parking division within city government as well as a dedicated parking fund.

“Additional capacity, whether it’s a new city garage or a partnership with the development community, is likely going to be needed at some point,” Engel said.