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Published: Saturday, 7/30/2011

Metered response

Despite the negative backlash it generated, a trial balloon to end free lunchtime parking at meters in downtown Toledo was not necessarily a bad idea. But the proposal was premature, and probably unnecessary.

The Downtown Toledo Parking Authority, which manages about 1,000 parking meters and three city-owned parking garages, commissioned a study to determine whether the meters should remain free from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. That practice began in the 1970s to encourage people to come downtown for lunch.

The study concluded that the free lunch should be eliminated, not as a means of raising revenue — although it would — but because too many people who work downtown take up the free spaces.

The original purpose of the midday reprieve from parking fees was to promote downtown businesses. Clayton Johnston, the president of the parking authority, said it had become “an invitation for abuse.” Toledo City Councilman Rob Ludeman said many downtown businesses favored the change.

But at a City Council hearing on the proposal, a different picture emerged. Councilman Steven Steele conducted an unscientific poll of downtown businesses and reported “a 100 percent disapproval rating.” Downtown business owners spoke against the change; several said it would give people another reason not to come into the city.

Mr. Johnston is correct that some people who work downtown park on the street during the three-hour grace period. It would be better if they parked in city-owned garages or surface lots.

But there may be better ways to achieve that result. Toledo collects about $450,000 a year from the meters. That works out to only $450 a year — fewer than 2 hours a day — for each meter. That suggests plenty of on-street parking should be available downtown most of the time.

But the city also collects about $600,000 a year in fines from the $10 tickets it places on vehicles parked at expired meters. That means tens of thousands of ticketed vehicles every year.

Thousands more people take up metered spaces without paying or getting caught, at an untold cost to the city. The more-serious abuse is by people who don’t believe they have to feed quarters into the meters anytime. Stricter enforcement would discourage these scofflaws.

If parking officials are serious about getting employee vehicles into parking lots, they need to ask why downtown workers with full-time jobs prefer to park on the street, when it is in many cases less expensive for them to park in surface lots or city garages.

The answer is that many of them don’t pay for all the time their vehicles sit in metered parking spaces. Again, stricter enforcement would encourage them to pay for off-street parking.

Encouraging more people to drive downtown to eat and shop is as important today as it was in the 1970s. Rather than eliminating an inducement, the Toledo-Lucas County Post Authority — the soon-to-be meter manager and owner of the city’s garages — should consider instituting a parking validation system that would reward visitors who park in lots and garages for spending money with downtown merchants.

That gesture, and better enforcement of current regulations, should ensure plenty of parking spaces for the lunchtime crowd, and everyone else.



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