Today the Seattle Times warns readers, yet again, about the city's plan (previously reported ad nauseam) to raise parking rates next year. Part of the city's goal in higher and varied pricing is to promote parking turnover, leaving more spaces available. That's good; people need to park. But here's the ominous opening:
Until now, Seattle drivers have known that, if they could wriggle their way to an open curb, parking fees would be relatively inexpensive and straightforward. But one of city government's New Year's resolutions is to embark on a new age of market-based pricing, ultimately charging more on the busiest blocks at the busiest times, and less at times when extra spaces tend to be available.
So... parking will transform from cheap and comprehensible to expensive and puzzling? Actually, variable pricing around the city (such as the range from 75 cents an hour for long-term parking in neighborhoods like Roosevelt to $2.50 an hour downtown) is nothing new. Varying the cost a bit more—considering that parking meters tell you what to pay and spit out a receipt for you—will not catapult all drivers into a vexing new whirlpool of confusion. We just stick in the debit card these days, plug in the minutes we need, and pay; no fumbling for change required. Second, our parking at $4 an hour (the highest rate) will still be "relatively inexpensive," especially where we see the highest demand, downtown. Acres of private lots charge $10 an hour—more than double the $4.
And here's the crux of what the Seattle Times is getting at:
Parking is a cash cow for Seattle, bringing in $70 million this year, through lot taxes, meter income and revenue from about 500,000 citations. That revenue protected the transportation budget from severe cuts during this recession.
Gosh, the Seattle Times is saying in perpetuating its victim narrative of a "war on cars," if we weren't being bled dry by feeding an insatiable herd of government parking meters, Seattle could actually thrive.
Absent any context, this $70 million a year "cash cow" from parking rates and tickets seems like it's somehow sucking us dry to bankroll the city. It's not. In the city's 2010 to 2013 budgets, the Seattle Department of Transportation—the money-sucking bovine in question—costs about $310 million annually. The parking fees and tickets are less than a quarter of that. The rest comes largely from gas taxes, which have been declining for a decade. So other money to pay for roads, workers, stop signs, the stripes—things that drivers use—has to come from somewhere. The people using the street help pay for it. This isn't a war on cars. This isn't a war on shoppers. This isn't a plot ginned up on the Tour de France. It's called Paying Your Own Fucking Way. That's what the fiscally conservative Seattle Times wants, isn't it? To "reset" our spending for "fiscal responsibility."
(Sure, it would be nice if a tax on the wealthy paid for all of this crap so that regressive user-end taxes weren't paying for a disproportionate share. But tough shit. We have the tax structure we have—for now. Maybe the legislature will change it.)
The "debate" over street parking fees is often couched as a leading example of the reason Seattle loses its edge over suburbs, where "cities" have built themselves around malls with free parking, eight-lane arterials through the "city," and other accommodations for the vehicle. Seattle wants to compete. But we don't win by giving away parking for free (we'd fuck ourselves because parking would never turn over). We don't win by trying to become more like a suburb (because then there would exactly zero reason to come here from another suburb). Seattle may have a marketing problem here—what makes the stores of Seattle better than the franchise chains that dominate the suburbs?—but it's not a parking problem. And it's not an anti-car problem. Until downtown is really competing by leveraging its assets against Bellevue Square, it's a problem of people whining because they don't want to pay their fair share.