One of the traits that unites diverse citizens around the country is our desire to avoid paying for parking. Fess up: Your instinct is to pounce on opportunities to pay as little as possible for as long as possible whenever possible, even if you have to drive or walk a little farther.
Though we might be on a mission to purchase goods, services or entertainment that is 10 to 100 times the cost of parking, it’s the low rate of a coveted space that produces our euphoria. It is those $20 to $40 daily charges in big cities and at urban hotels that we most wish to forget.
Remember this as the city of Boise considers altering its hourly metered parking rates from $1 per hour to a new range of 50 cents to $3 per hour, depending on the zone. Remember this in the context that the city will continue to offer free parking after 6 p.m. and on weekends. Remember this when you realize you now have the option of using a credit card or a smartphone app to communicate with those otherwise impersonal poles you plug with coins.
Remember that you’re not in some Northwest metropolis, where you likely would be paying a whole lot more to park.
The city’s proposal has come after several years of studying and upgrading its Downtown parking management strategy. It’s not easy to love parking fee increases, but we’re warily supportive of this one.
As early as the City Council meeting on Tuesday, a resolution could be heard to establish the new pricing plan. If it passes, sometime in the spring the city would begin adjusting parking meter fees according to three newly established Downtown zones. This new “demand-based” approach would differentiate rates in the city’s core and outlying tiers.
People who want to visit that Downtown salon might get to stay in their spot for more than 1 hour and 20 minutes — though they might pay more for the privilege, and possibly more the longer they park. People who park in one of the outer zones might pay only 50 cents per hour, and log some nice, healthy steps on their Fit Bit as they hike closer to the city core.
We get that the city is trying to herd us into the under-used parking garages, where the first hour is free and additional hours $2.50. Today, street parking at closer-in spots for $1 an hour are often a better deal. The city and some Downtown businesses hope new zones and pricing might point more people into the garages and open up core spaces for customers.
These moves will solve a few problems and add some benefits.
▪ If more people get an opportunity to patronize Downtown businesses because spaces in front of stores and shops are turning over more often, that’s a good thing. Especially for customers who find it a litter harder to get around.
▪ There is added convenience interacting with the meters digitally, or with credit cards.
▪ The ratio of $2.3 million in parking revenue could change from one-third parking fees/two-thirds parking tickets to more of a 50/50 mix. That’s good because more people are paying for the actual parking time they want instead of a penalty that comes with a hassle.
The risk? More expensive Downtown parking might cause some to throw up their hands and say they are headed for the mall and those acres and acres of free parking. Somewhere along the line that “free parking” gets paid for, and some of those spaces require a bit of a hike before you ever get in the door, but that’s clearly not discouraging shoppers who choose to skip the hunt and the hassle of parking Downtown.
That’s why we’re supportive, but wary. We want the city and Downtown merchants to pay close attention to how this increase plays out. There is only one thing worse than having to pay for parking: paying for parking meters in front of businesses that nobody ever uses.
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