In city after city, Walker Parking Consultants pushes controversial fee and fine hikes
COLUMBIA, 4/9/11 (Beat Byte) -- Starbucks founder Howard Schultz figured out how to brew extra bucks from a cup of Joe.
Red light camera purveyors decoded the secret to squeezing out more traffic ticket revenue. And a parking consultant twice hired by the City of Columbia seems to be paving cities around the country green -- with parking fees hiked to the sky that may prove decidedly unfriendly to downtown businesses at the mercy of City Hall's parking monopoly.
From Kansas City to Cincinnati, Walker Parking Consultants (WPC) -- first hired in 2009 to design Columbia's much-maligned eight story downtown garage on 5th and Walnut, and tapped again last week for the princely sum of $503,000.00 to design a second garage on Short Street -- has persuaded city leaders to boost parking fees and fines to pay for what else -- more parking.
"The price of parking could soar...under a proposal presented to a Kansas City committee Wednesday," the Kansas City Star reported in Dec. 2007. "At the request of the public works department, Indianapolis-based Walker Parking Consultants...suggested adding 1,500 parking meters in the downtown area and increasing the cost, which would boost revenues by 35 percent to $1.3 million."
"Rates for downtown parking meters will double to $2 per hour on Aug. 1, while monthly rates at city-owned downtown garages will jump by 4 percent to 37 percent," the Cincinnati Business Courier reported last July. "The rate hikes were recommended by Walker Parking Consultants...and adopted in a series of motions passed by Cincinnati City Council Wednesday. Six neighborhood business districts will see a doubling of street-meter rates to 50 cents an hour under the ordinance."
Even as far west as Santa Monica, California, Walker Parking Consultants is making the pitch for pricier parking.
"Parking in downtown public garages could soon force visitors to dig deeper into their wallets," reported the Santa Monica Daily Press in August 2009. "The City Council next month is expected to take up the question of whether to increase rates....The suggestion by Walker Parking Consultants is to increase the maximum daily rate for parking from $7 to $9, raise the evening prices for vehicles entering after 6 p.m. from $3 to $5, the monthly permits from $82.50 to $121, and reduce the free two-hour daytime parking to one hour."
The push here is already in full swing. "Columbia could double parking meter rates to 60 cents an hour and extend enforcement time to raise more money, Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine said," according to the Columbia Daily Tribune.
Though he didn't cite WPC's PPP -- Pricey Parking Playbook -- Columbia Mayor Robert McDavid says he doesn't fully trust the firm, mainly because their garage designs seem to maximize size and minimize taste.
In a no-confidence vote at last Monday's City Council meeting, McDavid countered Columbia public works director John Glascock, who told Council members he thought Walker did a fine job on the Fifth and Walnut garage. McDavid disagreed, citing its grotesque misalignment with the city skyline. As a Boone Hospital trustee, McDavid and fellow trustees also turned WPC aside for not one, but two parking garage designs.
"Based on my experience, I don't have the confidence that the city does," McDavid told Glascock.
The unintended consequences of Walker's aggressive pricing aren't lost on residents and businesses, especially in communities where malls and other alternatives stand ready with free parking to swipe customers from downtown. A Cincinnati resident reviewing her city's parking fee increases begged WPC to back off.
"Please, Walker Parking Consultants, I urge you to begin listening to the citizens' needs, not what's going to rake in revenue," wrote Aislin on a Yelp review of the firm. "We're Cincinnati, not Chicago. We need affordable parking downtown. Just like any business, if you keep the people happy and treat them fairly, they will patronize downtown more often and generate extra revenue for the city."
If reports in other cities are any guide, Columbia's downtown merchants may need to start thinking the same.
McDavid vs. Glascock, roughly 18 minutes into the video
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