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Editor, Parking Today:
Last week, the Charlotte (NC) Police Department and a center-city development group asked parking operators for their help in improving traffic problems at night and on weekends in the center city. The problem is cruising -- they can't control it. Their solution is for the operators to staff their lots at night and collect parking fees to reduce loitering and improve security -- all this while they continue to have free on-street parking during the problem hours. What a classic example of the "Shoupista" method of poor municipal traffic management.
I suggested that they first start collecting parking fees during these hours to reduce "cruising" for free spaces; then it would make economic sense for operators to collect parking fees. After all, how can we successfully charge for something that the city gives away for free? Parkers will drive past attended lots to look for free on-street parking, creating more cruising issues. I further pointed out that the parking rates should be higher than the pennies they now charge during the day, to encourage parking in the most convenient space for the driver, not just the cheapest. Again, this would reduce the cruising problem. In addition to reducing the problem, the collected parking fees could then be funneled back into the same areas for improved police, lighting, etc.
The response was typical for many cities: We have never considered this, and we won't discuss it. We will gather data about other cities to see what they do, and get back to you. Their argument is that no one will come to the center city if they have to pay for parking, yet they want operators to start collecting fees to "solve" the traffic problems caused by free parking! This, of course, comes after years of political pressure brought on by the major businesses and these same groups for operators to give away parking at night. When I pointed out that other cities charge more at night and on weekends, and cited examples of their vibrant night life despite the evil parking fees, they were speechless and changed the subject.
So I have to wonder what they will come up with next.
David R. Fairbaugh
Preferred Parking Service
The Shoupistas David refers to are advocates of parking charges as designed by Don Shoup in his book "The High Cost of Free Parking." -- Editor