That Time Businesses Wanted Higher Parking Meter Rates

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Do you know why the parking meter was born in the first place? Because businesses wanted them! Back when mass car ownership started becoming a thing, people would just park their cars for as long as they wanted because curb parking was free.

But in a compact walkable area, if you let people leave their cars in the same spot for too long, not that many customers can come to your store because the same small group of people will be hogging all the spaces all day.

Business owners used to know there’s no relationship between low parking turnover and higher sales. Most people who come into your shop don’t buy anything, so it’s really all about getting a lot of different people through your store’s doors throughout the day.

From Amanda Erickson’s brief history of the parking meter:

What was once the transportation mode for the rich has become de rigueur for the masses. Streets meant for horse and buggy now needed to transport hundreds of cars to and from work every day. Then, of course, there was the question of parking. By the 1920s, downtown shop owners had begun to complain in earnest about the parked cars left by workers during the day.

Without proper infrastructure, shoppers had no place to stop; as a result, business was dropping rapidly.

Somewhere along the way, lots of business owners stopped understanding this, and started believing customers’ bullshittings about not coming downtown anymore because they hate paying for parking so much. That’s what’s called an empty threat. If you have a downtown full of nice stores, people will come shop, high parking meter rates or not. Plus, the cheapskates who care that much about paying for parking are exactly the type of people who won’t spontaneously buy anything from you.

Not everybody’s caught a case of the stupids though, as Carl Feldman points us to a PennLive article where Harrisburg clothing store owner Michael Boyd shares some of the old wisdom with the business owners whining about the city of Harrisburg’s parking meter rate hike:

But Michael Green, owner of Michael Boyd clothing store on North Third Street, believes the higher rates might help businesses by diminishing the occasions when people park longer than necessary. That will cause faster turnover of spots, increasing the chances a customer will find one.

As were several merchants, Boyd wasn’t concerned about the higher fines, and was more concerned about people who park too long. “There’s an easy way to get around the fines — that’s to put some more quarters in the meter,” he said.

This entry was posted in Land Use, Transportation.

6 Responses to That Time Businesses Wanted Higher Parking Meter Rates

  1. GDub says:

    The real problem of raising parking rates is less the amount and more the ease of paying. No one wants to have to drive around with 40 coins to pay parking, and when rates go up, more change is needed. Underscores the importance if installing modern credit-card pay systems at curbside to make increases “invisible”.

    There is a certain chicken-and-egg aspect to stores downtown. Proprieters invest in businesses in places where they think people will come and buy things. Access to downtown is one major reason people come or don’t come.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      Absolutely true about the credit card meters. I’ve been saying for years that people won’t care about the amount as long as it’s very easy to pay. Parking Authorities should be trying to maximize both convenience (Bethlehem’s Tom Hartley has been doing an awesome job at this) and turnover.

      I don’t think there’s a chicken and egg problem. The first pieces to move have to be the zoning and the parking. Cities need to worry less about making things convenient for suburban people coming downtown to shop, and worry more about making their cities a nice place to live and shop for the people who live around downtown, and who might want to move there. Too many places promoted low-density land uses in their downtowns in the 60’s-90’s under the false hope that this would spur a revival of downtown investment, by making those places more appealing to suburban drivers. In fact that just hollowed out downtowns and exported the value to the suburban malls. The focus now has to be getting sufficient density back to support neighborhood retail and other types of stores, with commuter shoppers as an afterthought.

  2. GDub says:

    I agree in general with the land usage, but this is a much easier thing to pull off in big cities with large amounts of “cultural capital” than in more provincial or smaller cities. People in New York essentially pay a premium for the hassle of living there to be in proximity to the great employment, social and cultural possibilities. Philadelphia, DC, Chicago, etc. are similar. The question then is–what is the order in which that downtowns develop?

    Allentown has great parks but a lot of its cultural inheritance has really worn down. The downtown was largely the same–with more businesses, more city wealth, and more foot traffic–in the 1970s and 1980s but the fancy shops and restaurants just couldn’t stay in business. Without businesses and cultural opportunities to support an evening dinner and nightlife crowd, its not immediately clear that more stuff downtown will translate to more residents and more nightlife. Nor is it clear exactly how the city development folks are going to push this, other than with a few hockey games.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      Allentown’s downtown is the same, except for all the people. A great many of the apartments over top of the stores on Hamilton Street are actually vacant. It’s missing the “Live” part of the Live, Work, Play mantra. JB Reilly is helping that with some higher end apartments, like the ones that just got approved, and as people move into the one tiny gentrified area of downtown, that’s going to spread to the surrounding blocks. Those older apartments will get renovated, buildings will change hands, businesses will start to feel safe moving in on the next block over and it’ll slowly spread out from there.

  3. GDub says:

    Didn’t Reilly convert one of the big high-end apartment projects into a hotel? That story wasn’t remarked upon much when it happened, but it could have reflected concern about the short-term demand for higher-end living. Hotels cover ground that’s already been tried, after all.

    I, like most people, sincerely want this project to work–but it strikes me that there’s a certain link that rings less true on how this social change will occur.