Imagine what would happen if City of Salem (Oregon) officials told downtown small businesses, "We're going to put a 20% tax on your gross revenues. From now on you're only going to be getting 80% of the money that you've been taking in before. Deal with it."
There would be outrage. A massive outcry. Businesses would do everything they could to stop the 20% tax from going into effect.
Which is exactly what is happening.
The City of Salem admits that putting parking meters in downtown Salem would result in a "20% leakage" of visitors now using the free two-hour limit parking spaces. Leakage is a euphemism for those people will go elsewhere.
Here's how a 2012 Portland parking study discussed the standard practice of assuming a 20% bye-bye effect after parking meters are installed in a previously free-parking area.
Table 4 summarizes assumed revenue potential in the new metered parking area. Arriving at a conservative, yet accurate estimate for potential revenue generation includes several factors; one of the most important is “leakage.”
Leakage occurs after noteworthy changes are made within a parking system (e.g., moving from a free to paid parking environment) which alters habitual parking behavior. This does not mean these trips no longer occur, but rather occur in a different fashion, such as changing transportation modes or seeking out parking in an adjacent area, where parking is free.
Also, the implementation of paid parking can result in a reduction in average time stays as pay stations are more efficient and enforcement is improved. A common factor used to account for leakage in a revenue model is 20 percent, which further reduces net vehicle revenue hours from 1,624 to 1,299 “effective vehicle revenue hours.”
So what this means is that however many hours people are parking now in downtown Salem, if meters were installed, those hours would drop 20%. Many fewer people would be spending much less time in downtown.
Really bad for businesses.
Salem doesn't have the variety of "transportation modes" that Portland has. Believe me, to avoid parking meters loads of people aren't going to jump on a bike, bus, streetcar, or Max line to get to downtown (especially since Salem doesn't have the last two, and barely has a functional bus system).
But seeking out parking in another area where parking is free... yeah, that will happen. And that place won't be the downtown parking garages.
After two-hour limits were placed on downtown parking spaces, use of the garages went down, not up. The garages aren't conveniently located for most downtown visitors, so likely the majority of the 20% leakage folks will head to Keizer, south Commercial, or elsewhere rather than stay in downtown.
I'm told that City Manager Linda Norris acknowledged this "20% leakage" at a City Council work session on downtown parking, probably on April 29.
It's no wonder that fifty-five small businesses in downtown Salem supported the Stop Parking Meters Downtown campaign. They collected 40% of the 8,000 signatures that the campaign has gotten so far. Meanwhile, virtually no one is supporting the City's ill-considered proposal to install parking meters.
So complains Councillor Chuck Bennett, who represents the downtown area. Here's what he had to say in a recent Salem Weekly story:
He’s disappointed that the public and businesses haven’t paid more attention to the work of a Parking Task Force that he and Mayor Anna Peterson have led jointly since last September. He says responses to the months of study the Task Force has conducted has been “few and far between.”
...Bennett is not sure why the community has not shown more interest in the Task Force or its recommendations. He says he’s received “almost no comments. I’ve probably got 5 or 6 emails on the matter from businesses.” The city has additionally funded several outreach Open Houses, in the conference center and in a downtown storefront, that were sparsely attended.
Well, eight thousand people have spoken out about NOT putting parking meters in downtown Salem. As Stephen Colbert is fond of saying, "the market has spoken."
Salem's citizens know a bad idea when they see one.
Making downtown visitors pay to park in order to fill a supposed hole in the City's poorly managed parking structure budget is a bad idea. Placing what amounts to a 20% tax on already struggling small downtown businesses is another really bad idea.
If an area is overly busy, way too many people jostling for too few parking spaces, then parking meters can be a parking management tool -- "rationing" spaces on the ability to pay.
But since downtown Salem already lacks enough visitors to keep businesses thriving, then reducing that number by 20% would be horrible. Even if it was less, 10-15%, that'd be bad.
I've never heard any small business owner in downtown Salem complain that too many people are clogging downtown streets and sidewalks. I guess this is why the City's Parking Task Force never asked small businesses what they thought about parking meters.
The truth would have interfered with the City's lust for more revenues, even if collecting that money hurts the viability of downtown.
Lastly, here's something interesting. Installation of parking meters in British Columbia provincial parks caused the number of visitors to decline by... (take a guess).
According to documents obtained by the Western Canada Wilderness Committee and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society under the Freedom of Information Act, visits to 14 parks in southwestern British Columbia declined by 20 percent in 2003, when the meters were installed.
“The decision to put parking meters into parks was poorly thought out, poorly planned and poorly implemented,” Eva Riccius, a wilderness society ecosystem specialist, said Wednesday. “British Columbians should not have to pay to go for a walk in the park.”Nor for a walk in downtown Salem.