Why Business Leaders Have a Right to Be Pissed About Higher Parking Rates

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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, the restaurateurs and other business owners who rely on commuters to pay their rent aren't happy with this proposed arrangement. And looking at a comparison of parking rates in cities across the country, it looks like they have a right to be pissed.

As the Times chart below shows, if McGinn's increase goes into effect it will make Seattle's hourly parking rate the second-highest in the nation, behind only Chicago.

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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," the Cascade Bicycle Club's advocacy director told the 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" in comparison 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, the meter is cheap compared to the exorbitant rate that private lots charge for a single hour of parking. But that's because they've got two completely different models.

The garages are trying to encourage longer parking. The meters are not. It's like comparing a vending machine selling 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 having just paid a visit to our neighbor to the south last weekend, I can tell you that most of their parking spots are available for five hours at a time, three hours more than your allowed here.

 
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