Is the City Too Nice on Parking Scofflaws?

To the average citizen, it may seem that the city of Seattle is trying to wring every last penny from its parking spaces. Meters now seems to be everywhere, and in several neighborhoods are charging rates that represent a steep increase from a couple of years ago.

But according to a report released today by the state Auditor’s Office, the city is raking in less than it could. Parking scofflaws, you might want to pay attention.

The audit identifies three city garages where lax controls seem to be allowing some people to park for free. All three are at the Seattle Center--at Fifth Avenue North, Mercer Street and First Avenue North. At two of the garages, where computers systems allow for the tracking of entry tickets and subsequent payments, the Auditor’s Office found that between 16 and 23 percent of drivers were not paying what they owe.

They got away with it in part, according to the auditor’s report, due to “the Seattle center management’s decision to focus on giving customers a pleasant parking experience.” Think of that the next time you’re spending a fortune to park on the street. In some quarters of the city’s parking kingdom, niceness rules!

Specifically, the Seattle Center frequently leaves garage doors locked in the open position after an event. That allows exiting drivers, who should have paid upon entering, to leave quickly. But the report suggests that some people are entering the garage before the pre-payment collection begins.

In its written response to the audit, the city said it thought it was doing a better job of collection than the report allowed, but agreed to certain recommended changes. The city said, for instance, that it will begin to monitor the times that parking attendants manually open the garage gates for customers.

Yet, the city also seemed to indicate that it is willing to live with some loss. “Seattle Center must seek a balance in the controls it uses,” it said. “The event related nature of Seattle Center requires operating in a competitive marketplace that places a high priority on customer service concerns.”

After all, the Seattle Center parking revenue is but a drop in the bucket when it comes to parking revenue. Last year, the city took in $4.7 million from its center garages, whereas it collected a whopping $34 million from street parking.

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