CARTA's money grab deters city visitors

CARTA's money grab deters city visitors

May 15th, 2013 in Opinion Free Press

A parking meter shows no time remaining in downtown Chattanooga.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

Apparently CARTA hates tourists, and the organization doesn't think a lot of Chattanooga residents, either.

Since the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority took over the management of downtown parking from the city, formed the Chattanooga Parking Authority and contracted with Republic Parking to provide parking enforcers, the agency has appeared hell-bent on squeezing every last dollar from downtown parkers through more than doubling the number of parking tickets written.

The deluge of parking tickets being handed out by Chattanooga's parking enforcers will ultimately push drivers away from downtown and harm area businesses.

Times Free Press reporter Cliff Hightower discovered the new downtown parking arrangement has resulted in $438,774 in revenue in just six months - more money than was collected from parking fines in all of the last fiscal year.

Downtown parking enforcers are writing parking tickets at a rate of a ticket every two-and-a-half minutes.

The impending summer tourist season will soon bring thousands of additional visitors to downtown Chattanooga and massively increase the already bloated number of parking tickets being written.

Most would agree that there's nothing wrong with parking meters, and parking tickets are a necessary evil resulting from convenient street parking. However, having visitors swear off downtown Chattanooga because overzealous parking enforcement workers are ticketing them for getting to their car just a minute or two after their time expired is absurd. So is forcing tourists to cut short their visits to the Chattanooga Aquarium or the Creative Discovery Museum in fear of a parking meter running out.

In the end, the rigid, excessive attitude of parking enforcement officers will deter Chattanoogans and visitors alike from coming downtown and patronizing local businesses and services - not that CARTA or Republic seem to care.

When CARTA took over the city's parking operations, the area transportation bureaucracy promised to give the city the revenues it was previously generating from parking fees and tickets - about $460,000 annually. CARTA pockets the rest.

As a result, CARTA and Republic have become money-crazed parking ticket-giving ogres more concerned with snatching money than working to make sure folks visiting downtown have a wonderful experience.

In a move rich with irony, CARTA decided to call their parking enforcers "ambassadors." Apparently, the bureaucracy was unaware that ambassadors are supposed to welcome people to a city, not send them fleeing in huff after being nickel-and-dimed to death by parking tickets.

There are a few easy steps that CARTA and Republic can take to make downtown parking a more pleasant experience.

First, they can follow the lead of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Rather than automatically ticketing visitors, parking enforcers in the Canadian city give cars with out-of-town tags a warning for their first parking violation. Printed on the warning is a note of appreciation for visiting the city and supporting local businesses, along with a reminder of the municipal parking regulations.

Second, CARTA and Republic should show mercy on those with Hamilton County plates by waiving the first parking ticket. The town of Woodstock, Vt., began the practice of throwing out each resident's first parking ticket. The move engendered good will in the city and resulted in more local visitors to downtown shops.

Downtown Chattanooga is a wonderful place to visit, but a terrible place to park. Let's hope that CARTA stops its ruthless money grab before summer tourists realize that parking downtown isn't worth the hassle.