Saturday, July 25, 2009

Too-efficient parking enforcement no way to lure people downtown

As a general rule, I try to avoid being self-serving in my column. I try not to use my public platform to write about issues that I’ve got a personal stake in.
But - and there’s always a but, isn’t there? - I do have one personal issue that drives me absolutely mad, to the point that on rare occasions I ignore all that stuff about separating the personal and the public and have a little rant anyway. The subject is parking tickets.
I’ve had a few in my day - probably 10 a year since I moved here in 1989. I generally pay up within the two-week discount period, primarily because I refuse to let the city take any more money from me.
Every one of the tickets has angered me. That’s neither here nor there as a public issue except if you consider that the City of Victoria has given me at least 200 easy opportunities to feel resentful toward it. I suspect the same goes for virtually anyone who gets a ticket, unless there really are people out there who chuckle good-naturedly at their knuckleheadedness at the sight of another ticket on their windshield.
I’ve had three tickets in the last week and a half. Anyone who spends even small amounts of time in the downtown on a regular basis can relate to the sinking feeling of dashing back to your car only to find a ticket fluttering under your wiper and a $20 instant fine waiting.
The first ticket was issued one minute after a 20-minute meter expired (the city has a grace period of five minutes, but wouldn’t you know, only on 90-minute meters). The other was issued five minutes after I’d distractedly walked away from an unfed meter and briefly poked my head inside a store with a good sale on.
The third was more garden-variety: a meeting simply went on longer than predicted. Running two blocks to feed the meter - which the city doesn’t allow anyway, of course - simply wasn’t an option.
I get the whole revenue/expenses thing. One of the city’s objectives is to offset costs through parking revenues, which generate more than $4 million a year for the city. I also get that if there weren’t rules and fines, people who work downtown might take up all the street space and shoppers wouldn’t be able to find parking.
But equally important objectives in the city’s 2007 parking strategy are to “support the economic vitality of downtown,” and “create incentives to position downtown as the destination of choice.” How does an overly efficient parking-ticket process fit in?
I expect the city will follow up this column with a letter directing me to one of the city’s five parkades, all of which have rates that match that of street meters with the bonus of a discount first hour. They might also recommend I get a parking card, which ensures I always have money for a meter.
I have, in fact, been motivated by rising fine prices to work much harder at using the parkades, and I love my parking card. But there are days when I think I’m going to take 90 minutes, but I take longer. There are days when I’m running late, lugging heavy things, or just unable to turn away from some beautiful open parking spot right out front. Why do I have to be fined $20 for that?
With no disrespect to hard-working city councillors, I’d take away their free parking privileges if it were up to me. Elected officials need to stay real if they want to keep their citizens happy, and that includes experiencing the frustration of parking tickets. Councillors, you need to become familiar with the feeling of being fined for spending too much time in the downtown.
If the problem really is downtown workers hogging meters, then let’s deal with that rather than continue to fine a completely different group of downtown users.
How about opening up the meters to accommodate longer parking? A bigger discount at the parkades, and a reasonable first-day fine rate? Not so long ago, people paid $7.50 if they dealt with their parking tickets promptly; how about a rate like that for those who pay up within a day or two?
Thank you, Downtown Victoria Business Association, for your two-hour-free Saturday coupons and your “meter fairies,” who use top-ups to quietly save people from tickets. I appreciate your attempts to mitigate the effects of an overly efficient parking system.
But it takes more than fairies to fix the inherent problems of a city constantly fining the very people that it’s ostensibly trying to lure into doing business downtown. There has to be a better way.

1 comment:

JC said...

Parking tickets is one of the few things I don't miss about Victoria. Here in Hualien, Taiwan, it has a good parking system, check it out: