Downtown parking meters are point of contention for some citizens

Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags:,

The year 1935 generally was not a good one. The Nazis repudiated the Versailles Treaty, Huey Long was assassinated in Louisiana, and more than 20 percent of U.S. workers were unemployed.

Then, Oklahoman Carl C. Magee patented the parking meter.

In recognition of its famous inventor, Oklahoma City was the first city in the nation to plant parking meters in its downtown area. Since, they have sprouted like noxious weeds worldwide. In Colorado Springs, there are 2,360 metered spaces.

The original intention of the meter, Magee stated in his patent application, was to turn over parking spaces in congested areas. That is good because the shopping public would have a realistic chance at locating a parking spot, the inventor reasoned.

But Magee also noted meters would be a source of revenue.

In Colorado Springs, that revenue is projected to be $3 million in the 2003 budget. The city’s parking department is considered an ‘enterprise.’ Generally, when a service is designated an enterprise, it generates 80 percent of its own income, and operates like a business. The city’s parking enterprise is 100 percent self-funded.

Other examples of city enterprise funds are the airport, city-owned golf courses, cemeteries, and even Pikes Peak.

Parking meters are a thorn in the side of shoppers, and some believe parking fees – and the inevitable violations, drive shoppers from the city’s downtown area to shopping malls with acres of free parking. However, they also understand without meters people might not move their vehicles for hours if there was no incentive to do so.

“Meters are used as a traffic control device,” said Gregory Warnke, city parking administrator. “Not to generate money.”

They do generate money, though. The parking enterprise nets about $1 million annually, but the proceeds, Warnke said, “are used to enhance overall parking services provided to the community.”

Warnke said the parking department paid for improvements in the downtown area through the Downtown Action Plan, funded the parking facilities at the Colorado Springs World Arena, and construction of a new parking garage at Bijou and Cascade.

It is doing this, he said, by charging less than the going rate for parking, while offering a couple of ‘meter holidays’ during the year. Metered parking costs a quarter per half-hour.

Even so, parking meters sometimes evoke a rage in people not unlike Paul Newman displayed in the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke. In the film Newman’s character, Luke, in an act of rebellion, cuts the heads off two long rows of parking meters.

Still, few irritations are greater than getting a parking ticket, especially when it is late in the day on a Saturday. Warnke, speaking from his city office, is unapologetic.

“Downtown, people are all very familiar with the parking system,” Warnke said. Meters clearly state parking must be paid for from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, except on holidays, Warnke said.

“There isn’t any over-zealousness on the part of the parking enforcement officer,” said Warnke of the Saturday afternoon ticketing. “They are doing their job.”

Nonetheless, shoppers find the experience of receiving a parking ticket moments after their meter expires a frustrating way to spend an extra $10.

Michael Ross is careful he doesn’t run his meter over. He likes to drink his morning coffee in downtown coffee shops. “I sit by the window so I can see my meter,” he said, adding that his espresso is expensive enough without a $10 surcharge.

Additionally, Warnke said, there is no free breakfast. Drivers parking at inoperable or broken meters will be ticketed. If the car is still there two hours later, another citation may be written.

If you discover a malfunctioning meter, don’t park there; instead, call the telephone number on the meter. A repair technician will be dispatched to service it, said Warnke.

Others are angered by what they believe to be unfairness in the system. A recent example occurred when an applicant fraudulently filled out a request for parking meter hoods.

Parking hoods are routinely issued to contractors working in a building, or for loading into or out of a building. The rate is $4 daily. In the fraudulent case the purpose of the parking hoods was to enable Republican campaigners to park in front of a polling place, for political reasons.

Warnke said when his office learned the applicant lied on the application the hoods were pulled. He then referred the matter to the city attorney. To date, no charges have been filed.

The city’s conversion to electronic parking meters is complete, and the $350,000 upgrade was funded with parking receipts. The new meters are accurate to seconds a week, officials said. Because data is stored in the meter, peak usage times and other trends can be tracked.

The new system isn’t perfect, Warnke said, as they are battery-powered. Additionally, if a patron drops coins too quickly after one another, it is possible one might not register.

Should a parking violation dispute occur, the parking department has a grievance procedure.

Soon, said Warnke, shoppers and downtown employees will have additional covered parking. The new garage on Bijou and Cascade will be completed by December, although contractors will receive a ‘small’ incentive if completed by November 20th so it will be available to shoppers when the holiday season starts.