Magazine

Point of View

JVH as Simon Legree

By John Van Horn

I was honored to be asked to speak at a recent regional meeting of the Virginia Downtown Development Association in Winchester, VA. The topic was “Honk If You Support Paid Parking.” These were small cities in Northern Virginia (near Washington, DC) whose downtown merchants are concerned about their businesses. They are learning that paid parking doesn’t drive people away; it opens up space for those who want to visit these fabulous, renovated, anti-bellum jewels.
It turns out that the association had asked Dr. Donald Shoup to speak and he was unavailable, so he recommended me. I love to talk about my favorite topic: market-based parking pricing. Well, let’s face it, I just love to talk. These groups love to listen. I sat at a table with a local merchant who was dead-set against charging for parking. I hope I gave him more to think about than just the very good faire served up in the local brew pub that hosted the event.
The Philadelphia Parking Authority is beginning to clean up its act. I have been told that a little sunlight is often the best antiseptic. The local press has been slamming the authority for more than a year about overpayments, high salaries, padding payrolls and the like. Even the governor was quoted as being “shocked, shocked” at the goings on in the PPA.
What’s really classy is that the Republicans roared at the Democrats for the PPA scandals, and when they took over, it seemed it was business as usual.
The latest is that the PPA has fired a number of consultants, and is letting senior staff retire and lowering salaries of newcomers.
I’m proud that fellow members of the fourth estate are doing some parking good in Philly. This town has been a hotbed of problems for years, going back to the airport scandals and continuing through “Parking Wars.”
We need more good reporting like this. Way to go, Philly Inquirer.
Finally, someone has the right idea. It’s time to put on my Simon Legree hat and say that people with disabilities should pay for parking. In Winnipeg, Canada, they have told the disabled that they are going to start enforcing the law. Seems the law says that handicapped people get two hours free, but it was impossible to track that using the old-style meters. The new P and D meters allow for that tracking, so the disabled will have to pay for parking.
Here’s the deal. Most disabled want access, not charity. The problem is that there are many more disabled placards out there than there are legitimately disabled people. In Manitoba, it turns out that there are 2-1/2 times the national average of disabled placards issued. Why? Well, duh – so people can park for free and take spaces from those who legitimately need them.
There have been scandals at universities where athletes have gotten permits and in states where forged doctor’s notes mean free parking. Funny thing, though – where you have to pay, whether disabled or not, the incidence of cheating goes way down.
The disabled veterans organization in Florida told me a few years ago that they were lobbying for pay-as-you-go parking for the handicapped. Florida has one of the worst records of cheating with handicapped placards. The seasoned citizens in the state, and there are a lot of them, feel they should have the right to park for free and are taking all the spaces that truly disabled people need. The law there has been tightened a bit.
I know Winnipeg relatively well. These are folks of great Midwestern stock. They have a beautiful city, great ballet, theater, and symphony. They know how to take care of their own. And they are doing it the right way.
Our buddies in “Baghdad by the Bay” at least aren’t hiding it. They come right out and say it. San Francisco needs more money, so they are raising parking fees. Here is an excerpt from the Examiner.com:
“An unpopular proposal to increase meter rates citywide by 50 cents has been shelved by Muni officials, who are counting, instead, on a program of costlier parking stays during peak travel times in certain parts of The City to help make up a budget shortfall ...
“Initially projected to have an $81 million shortfall over the next two fiscal years, the SFMTA [San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency] has reconciled that gap in part by adding $10 to all parking fines, implementing a $10 raise to Muni’s 30-day Fast Pass, and increasing costs for residential parking permits ...”
I wonder if it occurred to anyone at Muni to simply work on lowering their costs. Of course, they are using parking fees to provide low-cost buses and other rapid transit in the city. And when the concept works and people start taking the buses and the number of parkers goes down, one could assume that revenue will drop, too. Oops.
So they will raise the price of bus tickets and people will go back to driving.
From the UK – The local council in the Caradon District in Cornwall decided that they wanted to lower parking rates for the first hour of on-street parking and to penalize those parking longer than an hour with a steep increase for the second and succeeding hours. So they lowered the amount to 20 cents for the first hour. In comes the law of unintended consequences.
Their revenue took a sharp drop. Well, duh! Didn’t anyone think of looking at how long the average parker in the area actually parks on-street? If they had, they would have realized the problem and could have either made an adjustment or simply taken the hit for the revenue drop. They are “studying” the problem, and a committee of consultants and counselors will report back to the council next week.
That’s just one more little fact shoring up my contention that governments are more concerned about collecting money from parkers than using the rates to affect policy. Let’s face it: It’s just another tax.

Article Abstract from June, 2008




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