Robert Ehlert: New parking fees seem like a lose-lose deal

rehlert@idahostatesman.comMay 31, 2013 

We learned earlier this week Boise city officials are considering taking away the Free Parking space on the Monopoly board of your weekday evening and weekend Downtown soirees.

We learned that businesses (please, step forward and identify yourselves) WANT this because freeloading park sharks are taking advantage of the deal and parking for free for wayyyy too long.

We learned that city officials are NOT DOING THIS TO MAKE MONEY. No, that would be purely incidental, and so would the $15 parking tickets issued to barstool-hugging patrons whose meter-plugging skills might be impaired by imbibing at establishments where freeloading parkers are gathered.

We learned this in a news story written by the Statesman’s Sven Berg in which Craig Croner, Boise’s administrative services manager, was just doing his job, informing citizens that, basically, this free stuff in Boise might have to go.

Croner told Berg the “problem” is that after 6 p.m. and on weekends, parking shifts away from garages and onto streets. Croner said people leave their cars in the same spot for long periods of time, complicating access to Downtown businesses.

Following are some unvarnished statements we hope you will receive and relate with all civility. We hope you comment on them in this space so when the city considers Operation Pay Da Man, your City Council will have appropriate feedback:

- Boise takes in about $620,000 a year from its meters. Charging people to park their cars is a way of keeping drivers from occupying the spaces for too long.

- “Our job is not to make money. Our job is to enforce parking and make sure we have available spaces.”

This is just kind of a random thought, but how do those statements square with the missions of businesses — those still managing to stay open, and especially those luring customers Downtown from 6 to 8 p.m. on weekdays and on Saturdays? Businesses, let us hear from you.

And how do you, the meter-plugging-public, feel about ante-ing up for these extra hours? Will it curb your appetite for that Bang Bang Shrimp Appetizer at Bonefish? Will it pinch your pining for a pint?

There’s a counter-argument that the meters will discourage cars and promote foot and bike traffic. But, wait. Then, if all the spaces are already filled with Free Parkers, what’s stopping the walkers and bikers? If we are encouraging walking, park at the garages and do the tour de Downtown on foot.

We have to say that parking in Downtown Boise is a relative bargain. Who hasn’t faced $40-per-night charges in bigger cities to park at hotels where they already are paying for a room?

The concern here is really about businesses and their patrons. Will people flocking to the Saturday morning markets keep coming — with their quarters in hand? Will the revelers keep up their weeknight visits to the bars?

Another thing on the Downtown Boise parking horizon is phasing in new meters. Some can take your credit card. Others will let you complete a transaction with your smartphone. Croner says some of these meters cost about $800 each. Is this a quid pro quo, new fees for new meters? Just asking.

We agree parking fees affect behavior. We just hope they won’t negatively affect business, too.

Robert Ehlert is the Statesman’s editorial page editor.

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