New site lets you find open beach parking spots in real time

The beach is always a popular spot to spend a holiday weekend. With that in mind, St. Pete Beach is rolling out two programs to make parking easier and cheaper.

One change drivers will notice is flat-rate parking. All of the public, metered spaces will cost just $15 for the whole day -- Friday, May 28 through Monday, May 31.

City officials say the goal is for beachgoers to turn a few hours in the sun into a full day trip, without constantly feeding the meter.

"From there, maybe decide to go out to eat, go shopping, get some ice cream and just hang out and enjoy," said director of St. Pete Beach Parking and Transportation Michelle Gonzalez.

There's also a free shuttle service called Freebee that will pick people up and take them just about anywhere they want to go in St. Pete Beach.

If flat-rate parking is a hit this weekend, the city may bring it back for the Fourth of July and Labor Day holiday weekends.  How affordable it is, really depends on how much time your vehicle stays put.

"Once you park you don’t have to move your car to go look for another parking space somewhere else," Gonzalez said.

In Pass-A-Grille, new, real-time parking spot availability technology will make it easier for drivers to find an open parking space. On-street sensors have been installed along Pass-A-Grille Way between 1st and 12th avenues, as well as down 9th Avenue and will show where there's an open spot. 

It's accessible with an app called Park Smart SPB, which is available through the Google Play store, or you can check if there are open spots on the city website

An aerial map shows a green dot when a parking space is free, and yellow when it has already been taken.

"We’re hoping that by getting real-time information not only will it let beachgoers know if there’s parking available or not, but it’ll also maybe help them redirect where they’ll go look for parking cuz they’ll know it’s full.  And then ease some of the traffic congestion for the residents you know that have to deal with that burden," explained Gonzalez.

By July, officials expect the sensors will be installed to cover every metered space in Pass-A-Grille. If it is successful, the program could eventually be expanded to other beach parking. The city is paying $25,000 annually to offer this free service.