Last week the City of Evanston sent out a press release with the headline “City to Implement Parking Improvement Following Input From Residents.”
The press release listed three changes the City plans to implement:
• Allowing multiple parking sessions per day in the same parking zone, within limits. “The City has reduced the “lockout” period between parking sessions imposed by the Park Evanston mobile app and the pay-by-license-plate pay stations to 30 minutes from several hours, providing community members with the flexibility to pay for street parking in the same location multiple times a day.”
• Addressing the Park Evanston mobile app’s 35-cent transaction fee. The Park Evanston mobile app is currently provided free to the City; however, the vendor receives payment for its service by charging app users a 35-cent convenience fee for each transaction. The City is reaching out to the app vendor to explore alternative ways to pay for this service.
• Extending the standard two-hour time limit for street and lot parking. At its March meeting, the City’s Parking & Transportation Committee recommended adjusting the standard two-hour maximum parking time limit, as parking needs vary by business district. On April 29, the City Council will consider extending the maximum time limits for parking.
We are glad to see that the City is admitting it was hasty in implementing some of its “improvements,” and we think these changes should be implemented. We would add that something has to be done about the lag between the time a person uses the parking app to pay for a space and the time the parking-enforcement officers receive that information. We are told that, at present, the gap is about 30 minutes and that officers have issued tickets to some people who had already paid for a space via the app but whose information had not yet been transmitted to the parking enforcement officers.
Even if these changes were implemented, we do not believe they would get to the root of the problem, which is that the City appears to see parking, particularly downtown parking, as its own private golden goose.
Over the years, City Council has had a couple of staples to rationalize increased parking meter rates: that Chicago charges more than Evanston and that the onus of parking fees is shared not just by residents but by non-residents as well. The frustration is also shared.
Ask almost anyone on the street, and our guess is you will hear that parking fees generate more anger than any other City fee – maybe they generate more anger than revenue.
We also understand that the City has set up its Parking Fund as an enterprise fund, meaning that revenues generated by parking (fees, fines and the like) should meet or exceed its expenses. Since the Parking Fund has been operating at a deficit for many years – though not all of them consecutive – there may be reason to abandon that model. Merge the Parking Fund with another fund or abandon it altogether.
Parking fees should be more than a revenue-generator, a number created via spreadsheet and approved only at the Civic Center. They should be crafted, certainly, to recognize how busy the area is, and the measure of that attractiveness can be balanced with a reasonable fee. To allow all our business districts to flourish, we have to entice patrons, not give them excuses to avoid Evanston.
Perhaps if parking rates were lowered, more people would come here to shop or dine or otherwise spend their money. Revenue “lost” through lowered parking rates might be gained through additional sales taxes.
Why don’t we really test how popular Evanston can be? Why not create a “park free” month? For 28 or 30 days, let every parking meter and every garage be open free of charge. Let’s see who comes, who spends, who stays.
If not these, then something else. Something needs to change – something more sweeping than what the City has proposed. As it stands now, “Parking Services” serve nothing but greed.