Houston nightlife parking: Millennials, Gen Z frustrated by prices, opting to stay home

The price of parking outside popular bars, lounges, and nightclubs in Houston has millennials and Gen-Z sounding off about the toll it's taking on their wallets.

Could the price of parking actually be hurting businesses or the economy? FOX 26's Gabby Hart did a deep dive into the nightlife parking scene to find out.

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From downtown to Midtown, whether it's a weekday or a weekend, day or night, anyone looking to park near popular lounges, bars and clubs could be spending anywhere from $10 to $100. Some young Houstonians openly called it a money grab, others called it capitalism. 

"We're spending $40 on a parking spot when we could spend $40 out with our friends," said college student Brooke Smith.

For partygoers who are on a budget, spending that much money before you even get to the food or drinks just isn't an option, but unfortunately, neither is free parking. The small number of available street parking spots are almost always taken early, but at some places, street parking isn't an option at all. 

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As for the empty restaurant and shopping center parking lots that surround some venues, when those businesses close, they get taken over by private parking companies.

This means every empty lot in the vicinity has a price. And the parking prices have some Houstonians finding risky loopholes just to avoid paying. 

FOX 26 spoke anonymously with the general manager of a local parking company. He told us the companies pay a set fee to use parking lots throughout the city on nights and weekends, and the price the lots charge people all depends on the demand for parking.  

"If there's an Astros game, if there's an MLB game like Yankees or Red Sox, they charge more. They're going to get people going to Minute Maid Park and to the clubs," he said.

So on Super Bowl weekend, we could see the parking prices inflate as high as $70 to $100.  

"Makes you want to go home and never say mind," said Ashley, who just found a street spot in Downtown Houston. 

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We spoke to numerous Houstonians who said they'll stay home before they pay big bucks to park. So, what does that mean for the businesses where these folks would've been spending their money? Are high parking fees hurting the economy? 

"It does feel like a money grab, it is a money grab," said Steven Craig, professor of economics at the University of Houston.

Craig says the prices are able to go so high because people are willing to pay.

"The economy is really a very democratic institution, we don't care who pays the money or really who gets it, the prices are what tell people what to do," Craig said.

"When you're spending your money, you're voting, the city is going to respond to what you're doing. If demand keeps going up, then the prices will keep going up," he continued.

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FOX 26 wanted to know how these lots are regulated and if there's a cap on how much they can charge. We contacted the city hoping for a sit-down interview to ask those questions, but they declined. Instead, the Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department sent us the following statement: 

"ParkHouston collects parking fees for public lots operated by the city. Neither ParkHouston nor the City of Houston is involved in private transactions involving personal or business-owned property with the exception of lots or garages that boot or tow for non-payment of a parking fee (HPD auto dealers permits and enforces).

The City of Houston does not regulate private parking lot fees. Texas State Code speaks to the regulation of parking lots in regard to communicating the going rate with the public."

The Houstonians we spoke to say there has to be a better way.

"Large parking lots should be built, but Houston's not going to do that obviously," one man said. 

However, Professor Craig says it is highly unlikely that we'll see the parking culture in Houston change anytime soon, and he has a key piece of advice for those complaining.

"I mean get a good job, right? Life is expensive, frankly the way you want to live your life is make sure you spend your money on the stuff you want the most," he said.