Mayor Ralph Becker wants to hike the price of Salt Lake City parking meters from $1.50 per hour to $2, and to extend the hours of enforcement to 10 p.m. on weekdays. Currently, parking is free after 6 p.m. Even though this policy change is not likely to win the mayor many friends, it makes sense for several reasons, though we would only extend enforcement to 8 p.m.
Opponents of the plan complain that it is all about shaking down Salt Lakers to fill city coffers, and it is true that if it were adopted in full, the city's take would rise by nearly $1 million a year. That would be a combination of higher rates, longer hours, and more parking tickets.
But there are good reasons for the policy. Restaurant owners point out that when metered parking ends at 6 p.m., night workers, some of them from restaurants, fill the spots and they never turn over. That makes it harder for diners to find street parking. Keep the meters in force longer and more patrons will be able to use them.
The other good reason is that it would encourage more people to take public transit downtown. If there is no free parking, that's another incentive to take the bus or TRAX.
If you don't think that's carrot enough, you haven't seen the packed TRAX trains on a night when the Jazz are playing at Energy Solutions Arena. More people are opting to take the train to avoid the cost and hassle of parking.
There is a practical problem, however, with the two-hour limit on the city's meters. If you want to grab dinner and a movie downtown, you can't do that in two hours. That's why members of the City Council are exploring whether the system could be modified to lengthen the two-hour limit.
Councilman Carlton Christensen has proposed a "5 after 5" plan. People could pay $5 for continuous parking after 5 p.m. But, of course, that would not promote turnover in the use of parking stalls.
If Becker's plan were put in place as proposed, people who wanted to combine dinner and movie probably would have to park in commercial off-street parking. That would not be too much of a sacrifice, because if the price of metered parking went to $2 an hour, it would not be much less than the $2.50 an hour charged by most commercial garages and lots.
The Downtown Alliance, which represents businesses, supports the higher parking meter rates and extended hours of enforcement. But it would end enforcement at 8 p.m. rather than 10 p.m.
Though that would cost the city $160,000 in revenues, it's a sound compromise.