With just a slight different “spin”

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With just a slight different “spin”

There’s an article in April’s PT about how cities can blow years of good PR about parking with one sentence. The City of Barrie, ON, did so this week. The article is here.

The city council bowed to pressure to remove parking fees on nights and weekends, then said:

“The intention is to change our proposed parking regime, to simplify it,” said Ward 2 Coun. Jeff Lehman.

“By
removing evening parking charges and replacing it with an increase
sooner, we are simplifying it.  We will not have any Saturday charges
or any evening parking charges. What we will do is bring the increase
sooner than planned to offset that loss.”

OK, read the entire article carefully — here’s what happened. The city council agreed to drop weekend parking rates under pressure from the local businesses. They then discovered how much money they would be loosing and decided to add night rates (now free) to cover the loss. The businesses complained, so they then decided to return to free parking in the evenings, but RAISE the rates during the day to cover the lost revenue.

What the city of Barrie has done is simply confirmed what everyone knows. Parking fees have nothing to do with merchants, parking availability, convenience for patrons, or GASP a free market approach to parking. They are, quite simply, a tax. A way to garner revenues for the general fund. They don’t even go to provide services for those in the places where they were collected, but simply pay for city expenses.

What if the city councilperson had said the following:

Parking is a valuable resource in our fair city.Your elected officials take seriously the protection of that resource. Just as we provide crossing guards to protect our children and rangers to protect our parklands, we provide officers that ensure our parking resources are used properly.

After considerable deliberation, the city has decided to change the way that we fund our parking and related resources. We are taking a number of steps.

First, we are removing on street parking charges for nights, holidays, and weekends.

Second, we are raising charges for daytime use of the parking spaces.

Third, we are using the money generated by the parking system to pay the salaries of the staff that is monitoring and protected this most valuable resource.

Fourth, any monies that are left over after those direct costs are paid will be returned to the areas from which it was collected. It will be specifically used for local neighborhood projects including streets, streetscapes, infrastructure, and in the case of business areas, promotional activities for the business communities in general.

Fifth, the parking resource staff is being given new training, and will also be able to provide CPR, directions for visitors, information about local areas of interest,  and be in constant contact with local police to assist in security and safety in the neighborhoods.

Sixth, working with local businesses and residents, we will be reviewing all parking charges on an ongoing basis to ensure that parking is available in our downtown areas. Our goal is to make it convenient for longer term parkers (those who work in local businesses, for instance) to park in off street lots and garages and make it easy for those visiting local merchants to find places to quickly and easily park.

We want to lower ‘cruising’ time while people are looking for convenient parking, make it easier to pay for parking charges, and ensure that the local business areas are easy to use and visit. Barrie residents should look to our parking resource staff as a link between themselves and the many services, public and private, our city has to offer.

Plus, this is an opportunity for those who drive to our business and residential areas to provide for the ongoing maintenance of the parking resources they use.  Its a wonderful win-win for our local businesses, residents, visitors, and your city government.We invite all Barrie residents to help us maintain and protect this valuable community parking resource.

Instead, the local government simply told its constituents that parking is just another revenue generator. And as an industry, we are at the bottom of the heap, again. At least with trash collection, they can see the results. 

If Barrie had taken the above approach, my guess is that the local merchants would be back in a few months asking that night and weekend parking charges be insititued. They would also be working with the parking resource staff to ensure that everyone is paying. After all, the money would be coming right back to them in the form of civic improvements and the like.

The attitude of the Mayor,  that the parking issue is now "parked," doesn’t cut it. Parking is ever changing and must be fluid to meet changing requirements of drivers, residents, and businesses.  If a 12 screen multiplex opened up down town, or even a large restaurant, the parking dynamics in the area will change. A walk in clinic has different requirements than a Lawyer’s office.

Just a few Shoupista words for consideration. You don’t have to do all this at once, and the political will it takes to do it is great. However the upside potential is great. If the downtown becomes a bustling hive of mercantile splendor, think of all the sales and property tax revenue the city will get. It will far outweigh any loss in parking income.

JVH

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John Van Horn

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