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Point of View

Cricket Bats, ‘Advocates’ and the Sierra Club

By John Van Horn

It’s always rumored that parking enforcement officers have quotas, and this is usually hotly denied by local government. However, New Zealand has finally come clean. Witness these quotes from a local paper:
His comments come after it was claimed that parking wardens in Wellington – working for a private company contracted to the City Council – were offered incentives, including iPods and holidays, the Dominion Post reported.
Christchurch wardens were expected to write seven tickets an hour, and high-scoring wardens had their names etched on a cricket bat, the Post also reported.
OK, I can understand the incentives. Write 100 tickets, get an iPod; write 1,000, get a day off. But cricket can be a true incentive. Imagine having your name etched on a cricket bat! OMG!
Let’s take a look at the seven tickets an hour – that’s one ticket every 8 1/2 minutes. I’m no expert, but that seems really pressing it. Even with the cricket bat incentive!
Let me be clear: I have no problem with incentives. I think it’s a great idea to give bonuses or iPods or cricket-bat etchings for successful enforcement officers. The only rule is that the citations have to be proper.
My 10% rule (only about 1 violation in 10 is ever cited) means it’s a target-rich environment. Plenty of violations to go around.
My buddy Chad Lynn at the city of Beverly Hills, CA, says the number of citations written is driven by just how strict a community wants to be. If you want to hire more officers, you can write more tickets. However, then you may be seen as “over enforcing.”
Let’s face it: If the number of citations written in a community were to triple or quadruple, valid or not, one could have a revolution on one’s hands.
And you might have to buy another cricket bat.
A local academic in Galveston, TX, has been an “advocate” for free parking, and he has a petition to keep parking free in that island city. Funny thing is, everyone else is opposed to the petition – merchants, city council and chamber of commerce:
The chairman of the chamber’s advocacy committee said: “The crucial issue is the turnover of vehicles in the commercial district. At present, people who want to visit businesses there can’t park nearby because of all-day parking by residents, employees, contractors and others.”
Well said. In the end, the academic agreed to drop the petition if parking would remain free on Sunday. Everyone smiled, and the council voted to proceed with replacement of hurricane-damaged meters and to hire Ampco System Parking to run the project.
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Check out last month’s Parking Today. The UK’s Peter Guest and I go head to head over “democracy” deciding parking rules. I think it’s balderdash; Peter thinks it’s the right thing to do. In the Galveston case, the “democratic” petition raised enough hell that the city came close to making the wrong decision.
Of course they should charge for parking, for all the reasons quoted above. And they should charge on Sunday, too. They are going to find that people will come and shop downtown the other six days a week but will shy away on Sunday because there won’t be enough available parking.
But our “advocate” had his way. Businesses will suffer, drivers will suffer, and non-driving taxpayers will pay for the parking for those who should be paying for it, the drivers. I guess our academic feels that it’s “more fair.”
But there is another issue: Ampco bid the contract assuming they would charge for parking on Sunday. This little to-do has cost them 1/7th of their potential income. They are going to proceed, but personally I think they should be able to rebid the deal. The rules changed in midstream.
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The recent story in the LA Times had this headline: “State lawmakers take aim at free parking.” The article reads like Don Shoup’s book, “The High Cost of Free Parking.”
These California legislators have gotten the word and now are considering requiring that local governments and private organizations charge for parking. They use all the great Shoupista arguments, but somehow I’m worried.
I have never trusted politicians and think we should wait for the other shoe to drop. Yes, I firmly believe that all parking should be charged to the driver, and not be “free.” Let the free market decide the rates. However, having the state mandate that a locality should charge for parking is scary at best.
This is letting the nose of the camel into the tent. Before you know it, you are sleeping with the beast. My guess is that these legislators will mandate parking charges and then, lo and behold, they also will mandate a state tax on all parking charges. Think about it. They will realize that parking generates tons of money and they will want their share.
But that’s only the beginning. Once the legislators begin a parking-charge mandate will they also begin to “regulate” parking on the state level, setting rules as to what type of parking you can have (pay and display, pay by space, single meter, etc. etc. etc.) and then what records you need to keep, and what about private parking? Will they require that the charges for parking not be included in the cost of your theater ticket but be charged direct, so they can calculate their pound of flesh? If not, will they set a charge that they see as “fair” and charge you the tax anyway, whether you collect the parking fees from the patron or the theater?
If you think the above is complex, that’s only the beginning. The government’s middle name is complexity. I can see property owners, operators, universities and cities having to hire people to do nothing but keep records on their parking fees to prove that the amount they pay to the state is correct. (Can you say sales tax, property tax, income tax, excise tax, etc.?)
I realize that the LA Times article says this is a “green” program, to force cities and employers to charge for parking so people will be enticed to walk, ride bicycles or take rapid transit. Yeah, right. It’s a thinly guised attempt to get their hands on our wallets, just you wait and see.
Cities are coming around, trust me. The entire reason P and D is so popular is because it can take credit cards and banknotes so cities can raise their parking rates. I can see no need for the state government – and, of all people, the Sierra Club – to get involved in parking charges.

Article Abstract from March, 2010




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