Parking changes long overdue

Parking changes long overdue

May 15th, 2013 in Opinion Times

A parking ticket is placed on a vehicle off East 10th Street in Chattanooga.

A parking ticket is placed on a vehicle...

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

The groaning began in October when white warning tickets began sprouting beneath windshield wipers on the streets of Chattanooga. Many of the tickets were going not to shoppers, lunchers or tourists, but to downtown business employees.

On the first day the new Chattanooga Parking Authority put its green-shirted "ambassadors" out to pound the pavement, a manager of Sticky Fingers on Broad noted: "Some of my employees got some [tickets]."

Anyone who has gone downtown to lunch or to run into an office or shop knows the real trick is to find a parking place at a meter. So anything to free up a spot that will only cost a quarter for 20 minutes or 75 cents for a hour was welcome.

But Chattanooga got a bonus, too: In addition to 140 freed-up metered parking spaces, the change so far is netting about a half million new dollars a year in revenue earmarked for parking improvements.

Think new meters that take credit cards, solar powered meters that don't eat up city power bills, meters and parking spaces that you can pay and extend from your smart cellphone, as well as potential new parking garages.

The savings, extras and sustainability are nothing to sneeze at.

But just in case you think that means you pay more for parking (when you don't gamble to beat the man), think again.

Rates on Chattanooga's 2,025 meter spaces went to 75 cents an hour in 2008 - up from 50 cents. In Atlanta, meter rates are $2 an hour. Nashville is $1.50, and Memphis is $1.

The cost of a parking ticket is $11, and one dollar goes to the state. The ticket cost increases to $41 after 10 days, and $5 goes to the city police pensions fund while $3 goes to the city's technology fund.

The downtown hospitality workers didn't get such a bad deal either. If they don't want to feed the meter, they can pay $20 a month and drop their cars off in designated garages, then take a free shuttle to work and back to their cars.

The parking authority has six parking garages downtown that 140 people have taken advantage of, according to Brent Matthews, director of parking for the Chattanooga Parking Authority.

That's 140 additional spaces every day along Market and Broad streets where tourists and shoppers can park during peak business hours.

And the change - which moved parking enforcement from the city police department to the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority - made provisions for the former meter maids as well. CARTA agreed to pay the city $1.2 million over three years to cover those jobs and the workers were transferred to different city positions, Matthews said.

So for all the initial groaning, the change appears to have paid off for almost everyone. Times Free Press reporter Cliff Hightower, working to offer all points of view for readers, did find a couple of naysayers. One was a hot dog vender who says he's been ticketed six times since the change.

His bets on free parking cost him $66 if he paid the tickets within 10 days. If he didn't, he needs to sell lots more hot dogs.

Change is often hard, but this one was an easy win.