Efforts are under way for the third time to make parking downtown more expensive. As in 1995 and 2006, parking meter rates would double from 25 cents to 50 cents an hour. Fines for parking illegally at a metered spot would also double, from $5 to $10, with the cost bumping up to $20 if the ticket isn’t paid within 30 days. The reasons for the increases haven’t improved with age, so perhaps City Council members should be as skeptical of the proposal as they were the last two times.
Last time around, officials said they needed to raise enough money to make the parking department self-sufficient. Maintaining the parking meters, in other words, is justification for making the use of them more expensive – the perpetuation of the department is the department’s main function.
This time, we apparently have a bad case of User Fee Envy. Other cities in the Midwest are charging more for parking and fines and, hurry, hurry, hurry, we must catch up! In Grand Rapids and Toledo and Cleveland and Lansing, they get $1 an hour! Fines are $20 to $30 in most places! Come on, Fort Wayne, we can do as good a job as they can of gouging citizens!
What should be under consideration here?
First of all, let’s dispose of the matter of trying to make the parking meters a source of revenue for the city. For the meters to bring in money serious enough to matter after all salaries and related expenses were paid, the rates would have to be so high that no one would use them. Presumably, no one wants a deserted downtown.
The only questions that matter are these three: 1. What purpose are parking meters meant to serve? 2. Are they in fact serving that purpose? 3. Would raising the rates and the fines make them better or worse at serving that purpose?
Parking meters are generally thought to keep the visitor count higher: People are encouraged to move along after a short time to make way for others, and people who work downtown are discouraged from hogging the good spaces all day. Is this in fact true? What do merchants think? How do they like completing with the free parking at the malls? How should we factor in the fact that there is a lot more parking available downtown than most people suppose – is that a reason for or against raising the rates?
And one thing to keep uppermost in mind: Downtown revival is now well under way, and great things seem just around the corner. Would this move be a momentum killer? Perhaps not – most people won’t notice a 25-cents-an-hour bump – but it’s not something to dismiss out of hand.