Friday, April 15, 2011

PRICEY PARKING, Part 2: Columbia consultant's one fix: Raise Parking Rates!

Parking problems?  Walker Parking Consultants offers one solution in many forms
COLUMBIA, 4/15/11  (Beat Byte) --  Not enough available parking?  Too much unused parking?  Too little parking access? 
Not the real problems, Columbia's $500,000 parking engineer -- Walker Parking Consultants (WPC) -- usually claims.  In city after city, WPC attributes virtually every parking problem to a lack of revenue, following up with a single recommendation:  increase revenue, either by hiking meter rates; extending meter hours; or adding high-tech gadgets to help make parking collections easier.
First hired in 2009 to design Columbia's much-maligned eight story downtown garage on 5th and Walnut, and tapped again to design a second garage on Short Street, WPC has city government considering several ways to boost parking revenues.  
Pushing back on the consultant's Pricey Parking Playbook, Columbia's Downtown Community Improvement District lobbied Mayor Bob McDavid to slow City Hall's plan to double downtown parking meter rates and extend enforcement hours, the Columbia Daily Tribune reported yesterday.

Downtown merchants may be wising up.  Government may benefit from higher parking rates, but what about businesses at the mercy of City Hall's parking monopoly, competing with malls and other retailers who offer free parking?   
Mirroring Columbia in stories about Walker Parking Consultant's rate-hike recommendations in his own city, "downtown is the financial engine that drives the city, so what happens if more of us go to Century City, Marina del Rey, Westside Pavilion and beyond?" asks Santa Monica (Calif.) Daily Press columnist Bill Bauer.  "How will local businesses and their employees do financially?  And city revenues?" 
And all that stuff about higher parking fees encouraging more foot and bike traffic?   Poppycock, Bauer says.  "Forget sustainability," he writes.  "Driving will actually increase as people head for more competitive venues away from downtown.  Some politicians need to get a clue." 
Austin city limits
Normally, an ample supply means lower prices and easier access.  But not in the wacky world of publicly-owned parking. 
In a February 2009 PowerPoint presentation for the city of Austin, Texas, WPC claimed Austin had "ample parking available in private garages and lots" despite a public perception to the contrary.  Nevertheless, the firm urged city leaders to extend meter hours and increase parking ticket enforcement.   
Couched in warm-fuzzy phrases like "extended parking management," WPC engineers presented a four-point money-raising plan:  Increase citywide meter hours from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.;  convert free-parking on Saturdays into paid-parking;  operate meters downtown until 12 midnight;  and move evening employees from free on-street parking to paid off-street parking.   

The increased meter enforcement times, WPC claimed, would scare off longer-term parkers, "creating turn-over in high demand locations."   
More importantly, the 4-point plan would "generate additional revenue to the Parking Enterprise Fund; increase funding for downtown projects such as parking capital improvement programs [of course]; provide additional revenue for enforcement activities under the Parking Fund; and net General Fund increases from parking ticket revenue." 

The total gain from WPC's recommendations:  over $4.2 million from the pockets of local consumers, according to page 6 of the PowerPoint presentation
Private -- or pricey? 
"It's not a core function of government to operate parking facilities," says Hamilton County, Ohio Commissioner Greg Hartmann.  
Like the Columbia City Council, Hamilton County hired Walker Parking Consultants to manage a government-owned parking monopoly, but with a different problem:  several Hamilton County Commissioners want out of the parking business. 
County Commissioner Chris Monzel figures taxpayer will pay $12.3 million to subsidize parking in county-owned lots.  "Why is the county in the parking lot business?" he asked.  "We need to look at divesting ourselves of things we really don't need to own and one of those things is parking garages," Monzel said. "Let's get those off our rolls."
Not so fast, said Walker Parking Consultants. 
Hamilton County "charges rates well below downtown market rates," according to a WPC parking study.   With Commissioners divided on what to do next, WPC's one-size-fits-all recommendation -- raise rates -- went into effect.   Hamilton County raised monthly rates for its Central Riverfront Garage from $75 a month to $100 a month and from $4.50 a day to $8 a day. 
Like financing for Columbia's parking garages, "the rate increase was a requirement of one of several loans used to build the parking lots," Monzel noted in a story about Hamilton County's dilemma
Columbia, deja vu. 
NEXT UP:  When fixing the problem makes it worse   

1 comment:

  1. Well at least the Columbia Police Department now has a mammoth fortress for their vehicles and there's plenty of space for the homeless to use when they need to get out of the rain this summer.
    But alas, the view from Tony's Pizza Palace is not what it quite used to be...