You’re all probably tired by now of hearing how broke the City of Oakland is and all the terrible cuts to this department or that. Sadly, you’re just going to have to get used to it, cause the budget problems aren’t going away anytime soon. However, balancing the budget isn’t only about cuts. What gets discussed less often is the flip side, bringing in more revenue.
Part collecting more money involves hiking our already high fees for like, everything (see proposed changes to the Master Fee Schedule here (PDF)). Some of the proposed increases to parking fines (PDF) have been met with resistance by certain Councilmembers, since many of the new fines would be dramatically higher than those found in nearby cities. (See chart beginning on page 9 of this document (PDF) for comparison.)
But raising our fines is not the only way to suck more money out of all this perfectly good public space all over the City that we basically give away to cars. Parking is a hugely undertapped source of revenue for the City, and happily, we’re starting to look seriously at ways to get more money out of it. At tomorrow’s meeting (PDF), the Council’s Finance and Management Committee will be receiving a report outlining a number of measures under consideration to bring in more revenue from parking operations (PDF).
This is so overdue. I agree that we should not be charging fines for parking violations that are like, double that for the same violation in neighboring cities, but I also find the City’s cavalier treatment of the regular infringement of our streets and sidewalks by car drivers with an entitlement complex totally atrocious. Not only does our current lax enforcement cause us to miss out on potential revenue, but it also creates a public safety hazard. Allow me to give you an example. Not too long ago, a friend was giving me a ride, and I asked to stop and pick something up at the liquor store on the way to our destination. So we get to the liquor store, and there are no open parking spots on that immediate block. Well, there’s one parking spot open, but it is clearly not anywhere big enough to accommodate this person’s enormous van. The following conversation ensues:
Me: You can’t fit there, just circle around the block while I run in and get some vodka.
Him: No, no, I’ll just park here, it’s fine.
Me: Dude, I don’t think so. Just let me out and circle around the block, I’ll take like, 2 minutes.
Him: No, I can fit just fine. Watch.
[Parks. We exit the car and inspect the results.]
Him: Hmm. That’s borderline, what do you think?
Me: Um…only half of your car is in the parking space. The rest of it is totally in the road and you’re completely obstructing an entire lane of a major street!
Him: This isn’t a major street.
Me: Whatever. You absolutely cannot leave your car like that. Get back in and drive around while I run into the store.
Him: [considers for a moment] Nah, it’s fine.
Me: That is obviously not fine! You are going to get an enormous ticket!
Him: Relax. Nothing is going to happen. Oakland’s parking enforcement, like everything else in this city, is lazy and inept. And it’s after 5, so they’re not working now anyway.
Me: Fine, forget the ticket. You cannot leave your car in the middle of the street like that. You are endangering people!
Him: This is Oakland, V. Nobody cares.
Me: That’s ridiculous. Leaving your car like that is a public safety hazard. Go move it.
Him: Look, I’m not moving the damn car, I’m going to the store, there are no meter maids right now to give me a ticket, and there is not enough traffic on this street that they need two lanes anyhow.
Me: The police could drive by and see your car and give you a ticket! Do you know what the fine is for parking in the street like that?
Him: No, what is it?
Me: Well, I don’t know, but I bet it’s really high. Don’t you ever read ORPN? We have, like, the highest fees and fines of any city in the entire world or something.
Him: The world? Really?
Me: Whatever, I’m sure it’s a lot.
Him: Even if there were any police around here, they would totally not stop to give me a ticket.
Me: Yes, they would! Your car is dangerous!
Him: Okay, look. There’s a police car right now. How much would you like to bet that they do not care enough to stop?
Me: I’m not going to bet with you on that, because I would feel guilty taking your money when you have giant ticket to pay already.
[Police car is forced to switch lanes in order to avoid smashing into the vehicle in question, but drives by without stopping.]
Him: Okay, you lose. I’m going to the damn store.
Me: I still think you should move your car.
High-tech enforcement tools: So there’s this company called Paylock that makes all these neat-o parking enforcement tools. They make mobile license plate readers that automatically scan to see if a car has outstanding tickets, and then, once it identifies cars that haven’t paid, you can something called a “SmartBoot“, which is much lighter, and therefore easier to use than a normal boot, and then when they stick it on your car, instead of having to wait for someone to come remove it, you call in, pay your outstanding fees with a credit card over the phone, and then you get a code that you can use to unlock it yourself. They use them in Montgomery County, MD, New Orleans, Denver, and a whole bunch of other places. In Fredericksburg, VA, they even use it to collect delinquent property taxes.
Another high-tech parking enforcement tool, not mentioned in the report, is this neat thing called AutoChalk that they have in Santa Barbara, that uses, like, GPS and time-lapsed photographs and lasers to identify illegally or too-long parked cars.
Increased enforcement hours: 12 part-time parking enforcement staff would be hired to so we can extended ticketing hours from 5 AM to 10 PM. The City anticipates this would generate $1.3 million a year.
Extra string operations to ticket abusers of handicapped and disabled parking spaces.
Doubling the fine for illegal truck parking, from $122 to $250.
Raising meter rates: From the current $1.50/hour to $1.75/hour. This would bring in another $1.2 million each year.
Raising meter rates for peak hours: For the highest demand parking hours, 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM, the City would charge higher rates for metered parking, probably $3/hour (PDF), possibly more. $5/hour for peak hours in high-demand areas could generate $3.2 million in annual revenue, but it does seem like kind of a lot of money. We’d get an extra $2.3 million for $3/hour.
Extending meter hours: We could bring in another $1 million/year in revenue by making meters go until 8:00 PM instead of 6:00 PM.
Having meters work on Sundays: This could generate $780,000/year.
Adding new meters in commercial areas that don’t have them.
Extending the hours of City garages: Yes! It seems so ridiculous that we have all this car storage all over downtown that people simply cannot use when they go out at night, and then we act like there’s some kind of parking shortage. It’s also extremely annoying to people who perhaps think they’re going to be leaving in time, and then they spend a little bit longer at dinner than they anticipated, and BOOM! Their car is locked in the garage and they can’t get it out until the next day and then it costs them a freaking fortune. This totally happens. I know this one guy who is constantly getting his car locked in parking garages overnight, I can’t even imagine how much it’s cost him. Not to mention the cost of a cab to get home when you’re stuck downtown without a car.
Meters you can pay by cell phone: This seems completely unnecessary to me.
Anyway, here are some of the things the City is considering doing to get more revenue from parking.
Some of these changes will be part of the budget we’re about to adopt, and some clearly require more investigation before we’re ready to do them. More information about those will be coming to the Council in the fall.