This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.
The City of Tacoma removed downtown parking meters years ago to lure shoppers back. But all that free parking had an unintended consequence: Downtown workers started taking up all the spaces, and businesses complained that their customers weren’t able to find parking.
So five months ago, in an effort to discourage street parking by downtown workers and create more turnover, the city resurrected paid parking in some areas, charging 75 cents an hour with two-hour limits.
Many business owners are happy with how that’s working out, but others say overly aggressive parking enforcement since the first of the year is discouraging people from coming downtown, just as many businesses are trying to hang on or establish themselves in a still-tough economy.
City parking enforcement gave out a bumper crop of tickets in January – more than 4,000 – and not all of them were the $15 to $25 tickets for parking too long. Some were hefty fines for expired tabs ($86 to $171) and missing front license plates ($86).
People who don’t keep current on their tabs or fail to observe the state law requiring front license plates really have no reason to quibble with tickets – and parking officers in other cities ticket those infractions, too; this is not unique to Tacoma.
But there’s a perception that at least some parking officers are too quick to hand out tickets for being a minute or two late. And Tacoma has had free parking for so long that a lot of people still aren’t aware that they now have to pay. Some have complained that the signage isn’t clear enough; that’s something the citizen task force advising the city on downtown paid parking has recommended addressing.
In any new program, kinks have to be worked out. The city must make sure that parking officers have adequate training, including on customer service. It must be impressed on officers that the whole point of paid parking is to help downtown business, not create yet another problem for them. For businesses struggling to survive, any such tweaks to the system have to happen quickly.
The citizen task force – composed of unpaid volunteers who meet twice a month – is performing an important service by providing input on how the system can be improved and looking at how it should be adapted to different needs in different parts of the city. Anyone with a stake in the issue might be wise to attend the group’s meetings.
The next meeting of the citizen task force on downtown paid parking is at 4:10 p.m. March 3 in Room 537 of the Tacoma Municipal Building, 747 Market St.