Fifteen years after Charleston started offering free holiday parking vouchers in the city garages, the program remains a success in directing dollars toward downtown businesses, snagging cash that otherwise might have gone elsewhere in a competitive economy.

More than 15,000 of the free, two-hour vouchers were redeemed in city garages last year, bringing in a significant amount of spending power and giving merchants better opportunities to make sales.

“It dispels the sense that it is inconvenient to come downtown,” Scott Watson, director of cultural affairs for the city of Charleston, said of the voucher program.

The free vouchers began going into circulation this week. They are available in city government offices, at local businesses and have been mailed in Charleston Water System bills.

They are also available online for printing through the web calendar, and also will be shared via Facebook, Twitter and the Office of Cultural Affairs email newsletters.

The are valid through Jan. 1 for two hours of parking in 12 designated city garages.

Susan Lucas, operating partner of King Street Marketing Group, which promotes King Street business activity, said the vouchers are “icing on the cake” in trying to draw people downtown.

“I know that merchants love them,” she said.

“It’s not just that they get free parking, the vouchers tell them where to go,” she said of the printed list of parking garages, their location around the city and other weekly events printed on them.

The group also has a web link to the vouchers:

City officials don’t track how many of the coupons lead to actual sales, though, or how many are used by people looking to avoid paying for short-term parking.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551