Free parking

It’s one time that political considerations could be constructive when it comes to policymaking. Raleigh City Council members surely know that if they approve new evening parking fees for downtown, where there remains free parking after evening hours, constituents will revolt. Maybe at the ballot box.

City staff says nighttime partiers and others are trashing up city parking decks and leaving bodily fluids on elevators and the like.

“Presently 60 percent of our crews’ time is now spent on janitorial duties. … Sanitizing and deodorizing are the most labor-intensive and time-consuming.” So says Gordon Dash, Raleigh’s parking chief.

The problems are a product of prosperity, one might say. Downtown revitalization has brought the city’s center back to life on the weekends and even on weeknights. Unfortunately, some of those enjoying good times aren’t so considerate of others or don’t take enough pride in their city to show it, and their fellow citizens, respect.

So Dash is in a quandary because his budget is getting slammed by all the cleanup and maintenance chores. The city has eight of its own parking decks, and as incredible as this might seem to those who remember when tumbleweeds could blow across downtown at night and not hit anything, some of those decks are full on weekends.

But boosting parking fees for those who come downtown isn’t the way to handle the issue. The city could charge a special fee, related to the size of businesses, to those who are benefiting from the rebirth of downtown.

And it could add police patrols to discourage the behavior that’s causing the trouble. Dash, who does a good job with a tough job, also suggests more security cameras on elevators.

Counting parking fees from lots, decks and meters, and revenue from parking tickets, the city is taking in over $15 million connected to parking.

Apartments and condos and further development are likely to increase the need for parking, so the city is going to have to do some more long-term, thoughtful planning, starting now. Charging people who come downtown at night from the suburbs – something the city has been promoting for years – to park doesn’t seem the best alternative.

Developers and private businesses won’t like the idea of fees to cover parking, but that’s a reasonable option. And it’s one city council members should take up before voting in evening parking fees.