Quantcast

Poverty parking discount dissed

A plan by city staff to require residents to prove they’re impoverished to get a discount on monthly parking permit fees at downtown garages was widely criticized at Wednesday’s Evanston Parking Committee meeting.

A plan by city staff to require residents to prove they’re impoverished to get a discount on monthly parking permit fees at downtown garages was widely criticized at Wednesday’s Evanston Parking Committee meeting.

The committee has been debating for at least six months how the city might use discounted rates on now-vacant upper floors of the Sherman Plaza garage to lure into the garage more downtown workers who now tie up meter spaces on the street.

But the committee has gotten hung up on issues of fairness in the discount program and fears that too deep a discount might cut into overall city parking revenue.

"I didn’t know we were jumping to means testing here," Jonathan Perman, executive director of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce said.

He cited several other cities around the country that offer discounted rates on less desirable levels of their parking structures or otherwise adjust rates to meet demand.

"All of these communities have variable rates, it’s nothing new, and they don’t do it with means teasting," Perman said. "They’ve realized they have excess capacity and have figured out a way to offer a discount."

"This is not school lunches, where it’s a necessity to make sure kids are fed," he added. "Why would we means test parking?"

The staff plan would have required parkers to show pay stubs proving that they were near-minimum-wage workers to get the discount.

Perman said it’s not just minimum-wage workers who could benefit from the discounts — that the $85 monthly garage fee is a big nut to hit for workers who make $25,000 or $35,000 a year as well.

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said she agreed, saying that lower-paid employees at Northwestern University have a hard time even paying the school’s $42 a month parking permit fee.

Committee member Paul Giddings, co-owner of Folkworks Gallery, said, "Pride is a huge issue with human beings. To get somebody to sign up for a transponder that says ‘I make under $20,000 per year’ is not going to be easy."

Interim Pubic Works Director Suzette Eggleston said the staff was concerned that people who already park in the garage would take the discount spots if they were available to anyone.

The goal of the discount plan was to get people who now park on the street to move into the garage, she said. If garage parkers just move up, that would not solve the problem, and it would reduce city revenue.

Perman suggested that the discount could be limited to people who haven’t bought a monthly parking permit in two years, but Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said that wouldn’t be fair to people who’ve already made the move from parking on the street to parking in the garage.

The committee has been trying to move workers into the garages for years to free up meter spaces for shoppers who complain about being unable to find convenient parking downtown.

But the city has priced hourly garage rates at $1, while meters only cost $.75 cents, making it difficult to lure shoppers into the garage.

Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons said the parking issue works out to a question of time, money and space.

He noted that in Downers Grove, where he used to work, commuters have to pay extra for the opportunity to park at an early hour near the train station. Employees of local retail shops, who would arrive for work later, can park in any remaining spaces for a lower rate.

The committee now plans to conduct a survey of downtown workers to get more data about how big a discount would be needed to lure parkers away from meters and other parking issues.

Editors’ Picks