Recently the Board of Public Safety introduced an ordinance to City Council that, in part, proposed raising parking violations from $5 to $10 and arbitrarily increasing meter rates from 25 to 50 cents. City officials who were proponents suggested that this was equal to, or even lower than other cities our size in the Midwest. The city, Board of Public Safety and clerk’s office are unfortunately acting out of order and in haste.
Proponents of the ordinance mentioned that this would bring more revenue to pay for new meter technology, the same technology they decried no less than 16 months ago. New technology sounds fantastic; however, the city budget shows the parking violations department incurs a major deficit every year and most of the fines are never collected by the city clerk. (For example, the Parking Ticket Amnesty program in 2007 allowed outstanding tickets to be forgiven just because they had gone uncollected for up to 10 years.)
Part of my unsuccessful campaign for city clerk in 2011 included slightly raising fines for violations and slowly purchasing new parking meters. However, they were just pieces of a five-part solution.
After studying San Francisco, Indianapolis and other cities across the country, I developed the following proposal, free of charge. Call me a local consultant.
First, on those streets where parking is in high demand, such as Wayne or Berry streets, meter rates, not fines, should be raised slightly, and time limits shortened. Streets less desirable for parking should have meter rates lower, with lengthier time limits. Simple economics coupled with time limit manipulation balance the availability of parking. (In San Francisco there is at least one space open on every block at all times.)
This would effectively eliminate the perception that “there is nowhere to park!” According to an out-of-town consultant hired by the city, Fort Wayne actually has more parking per capita than most cities our size.
Second, new meter technology that accepts coin, credit, debit and gift cards should be installed. My research in 2011 showed that the technology is available at a relatively low cost (totaling less than what we have paid in the last decade for out-of-state parking consultants). The technology fits on to our current meter infrastructure and justifies the rate hike by increasing ease of use.
Third, fines should, in fact, be raised as the current proposed ordinance suggests. Parking experts I met with in Indianapolis suggested that Fort Wayne was far behind the times in this regard. Either way, fines should not be raised without easier, updated technology for users. If implemented in this order, fines would be just as easy to collect as meter rates because most visitors would pay for parking by way of credit or debit.
Points one through three will not only bring the parking violations department from an annual deficit to surplus, it will allow parts four and five to be implemented.
Smartphone and Internet technology already in use in other cities should be the fourth point. The technology would notify parkers when a meter is going to run out and allow them to refill via phone or computer without leaving their lunch meeting or office. Additionally, the technology would tell visitors where available parking is in real time.
The fifth item that the city clerk and city of Fort Wayne should implement is “walking” parking control officers during summer months. Our metered city center is approximately 12 blocks and a pleasant walk when the weather is nice.
Officers could act as “ambassadors,” assisting less frequent visitors to downtown with directions and questions they have, making them feel more comfortable and enjoy their visit in downtown Fort Wayne.
Downtown business owners supported this plan overwhelmingly when I proposed it in 2011. The quicker customers can park, shop and move on, the more potential small businesses have to increase sales. Happy visitors, not frustrated by parking, will visit time and again to eat, shop and play downtown.
The city is on the right track, but implementing these steps out of order, acting in haste or omitting certain steps will only worsen the state of downtown parking.