2008-09-11

Does Raising Downtown Parking Prices Make Sense?

The Athens Banner-Herald has reported that the Athens Downtown Development Authority (ADDA) wants the county commission to raise parking prices downtown. The reasons given are to increase turnover at meters (so more people will come downtown) and to raise money for the ADDA. They also want to raise the price for parking decks and for the monthly lots.

Would somebody please go to the ADDA and slap them upside the head? Sorry to be so blunt, but if people are willing to walk an extra block or two, they can always find a metered space during the day.

There is something the ADDA needs to acknowledge. There is no compelling reason to go downtown during the day to shop. Most people would rather go elsewhere, not because of parking problems, but because they would rather pay less for comparable products. And do so without having to pay to park.

There is also a hidden burden here as many metered spaces are taken by people working in downtown businesses for minimum wage or less. Increasing the cost to the employees of these businesses results in a hidden tax.

Now, a couple of things they propose do make sense, sort of. Making people pay at meters after 6:00 PM, maybe until 11:00 PM, would make it easier to find a parking space when they want to go out for dinner downtown. But then you have to pay someone to walk around and enforce the fines. This person will likely have to deal with drunk, belligerent bar patrons. That would be fun to experience.

It also makes sense is to increase the amount of the fines for violations. Right now, it is cheaper to get a ticket than to feed a meter all day. If the ADDA really wanted to make money, they should recommend that meter parking violations really cost on football game days. Parking at a meter and getting a ticket is the cheapest way to park on game day. So why not make the game day fines $50-$100, with a boot? That will really help turnover and make some bucks.

The bottom line is that is not lack of parking that keeps people away from downtown during the day. It is lack of a compelling reason to come downtown. Raising the cost of parking will just be a disincentive.

Anyone else care to chime in?

3 comments:

Adrian said...

There are not many compelling reasons to come downtown unless you are visiting UGA or a particular office. For me, downtown is neat, but not neat enough to even pay the current cheap hourly parking in the deck or go hunting for empty street spaces. A lot of the daytime visitors are from UGA, and they have parking on campus already.

It is true, though, that parking decks are very expensive, so raising the deck rates makes sense in that regard. Also, in terms of supply and demand, there is quite a lot of demand for street parking, so raising the meter rates also makes sense.

I think that reasonable minds can disagree on this issue. If the rates actually encourage turnover, then people might be encouraged to come downtown if they know it is easier to find street spaces. On the other hand, the added cost might be the tipping point for both customers and employees.

From the perspective of employees, it is ridiculous to have to go move your car every hour or two. From the perspective of customers, the one-hour spaces are too restrictive if your goal is dining or leisurely shopping. If you have quick shopping to do that will take less than hour, then you'll go to Georgia Square Mall or Target or somewhere else that is more convenient by car.

There is a parking problem downtown, and it does seem like the new deck would help. But the question remains how compelling a destination downtown really is if you don't already live nearby or have a parking space at UGA.

hillary said...

I don't know if you've noticed, but downtown actually is pretty darn busy during the day, meaning there must be compelling reasons to go there (like lunch, for one). That said, I'm not crazy about this idea either.

Nicki said...

I'm ok with this idea, though I'd like to see it implemented with some others. 50 cents is still crazy cheap, and it's cheaper than the decks.

I don't agree that there's no reason to go downtown. I LOVE downtown -- I walk through it once per week because I have to, and a few more times per week because I want to. The food is excellent, the shopping's good, I like music, and so on.

As to what I'd like to see changed:

1. Downtown business owners are correct to get angry about meters being changed overwhelmingly to short-term meters. We do want turnover, but the decks are rarely full and an hour isn't long enough for a leisurely lunch and some shopping -- it's not even long enough for the lunch! The meters on Clayton Street (which are far enough from campus and the courthouse not to be highly desirable as commuter parking and on a street dedicated to retail and dining), at minimum, need to be switched back.

2. We need to extend the meters well into the evening -- like, at least till midnight. I scoffed a bit about this some time ago because I thought it was probably not wise to encourage people who are probably downtown to drink to move their cars. But everything has a cost, and the cost of leaving your car downtown is pretty low. The cost of hiring Zingo or using a designated driver is also pretty low. And the private market provides plenty of places to park where your car may stay overnight. Meanwhile our current meter structure incentivizes nighttime business at the expense of daytime business and church parking. A huge portion of the town's revenue is derived from nighttime business, and it's silly not to capitalize on that.