Mayor McGinn's Misguided Meter Policy

The city has a hole in its transportation budget that Mayor Mike McGinn says can be partially filled by increasing the cost of metered parking downtown by $1.50 an hour. Naturally, restaurateurs and other business owners who rely on commuters to pay their rent aren't happy with this proposed arrangement. And looking at parking rates in other cities across the country, it seems they have a right to be pissed: If McGinn's increase goes into effect, it will make Seattle's hourly parking rate the second-highest in the nation, behind only Chicago. Some of McGinn's greener friends think the mayor isn't going far enough. "The city could be leaving a few million on the table downtown," Cascade Bicycle Club advocacy director David Hiller told The Seattle Times. This line of thinking, echoed by Erica Barnett at PubliCola, is based on the idea that, even at $4 an hour, metered parking will be "below market rate" compared to private lots and garages. "The market rate in downtown Seattle, for example—that is, the amount drivers pay to park in private lots—is $7 an hour," writes Barnett. Sure, meters are cheap compared to the exorbitant rates private lots charge for a single hour of parking. But that's because these are two completely different models. Garages try to encourage longer parking. Meters do not. It's like comparing a vending machine that sells individual cans of Coke to a movie-theater concession. One isn't the "market rate." They're selling two different things. Also, it's interesting to note that Portland, the city that makes Seattle green with envy when it comes to environmental carrots and sticks, is nearly Jet City's opposite. Not only does metered parking only cost $1.60 an hour, but most of Portland's parking spots are available for five hours at a time—three hours more than you're allowed here.

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