Parking habits

Eliminating special fines for habitual parking offenders will only worsen the downtown parking problem.

If the cost of a parking ticket isn’t high enough to provide a deterrent to overtime parking, the tickets might as well not be issued.

Lawrence city commissioners need to keep that in mind as they consider complaints from downtown merchants about issuing $50 tickets to people who habitually violate parking time limits. The fine is harsh, but it may not be unreasonable.

At their Tuesday meeting, commissioners received a petition urging the repeal of the law covering habitual parking violators. Under current law, the $50 tickets are issued only to people who already have received five parking tickets in the last 30 days. That means they aren’t going to customers who don’t understand downtown parking regulations. They are going mostly to downtown employees or residents who make an informed decision to park in a certain place based, supposedly, on how long they expect to be downtown.

Jeremy Furse, owner of Britches Clothing, is spearheading the repeal movement, saying the fine makes it harder for downtown businesses to hire and retain good workers. He said he doesn’t want to do anything that would encourage employees to park in prime spots along Massachusetts Streets or in two-hour lots along Vermont and New Hampshire streets, but eliminating the habitual violator tickets would do just that.

He specifically complained about an employee who received a $50 ticket for overparking at a five-hour meter along Vermont Street. That’s too bad, but if the employee expected to work an eight-hour shift, he should have parked in the city’s parking garage or at one of the 10-hour meters located slightly further from Massachusetts Street. He already had received five tickets within 30 days. He knew how the system worked; he simply made a choice.

The point of the $50 tickets is to encourage people to make different choices. Getting a $3 ticket each time they overpark probably doesn’t provide a strong enough incentive for habitual violators to kick the habit.

City commissioners agreed to consider a number of options to soften the habitual violator ordinance. They could raise the ticket total or count only unpaid tickets toward the five-ticket total, which doesn’t provide much additional deterrent. Another is to count only tickets issued on Massachusetts Street. To be effective the rule needs to apply at least to two-hour parking lots and meters. Perhaps five-hour and 10-hour meters could be exempt.

If employees don’t feel safe walking to their cars at night, that’s another problem. If employees feel that way, so do other people downtown. Businesses can give employees a break to go pay a meter or move their cars, but the bigger safety picture needs to be addressed so that anyone walking to their car at night can feel safe.

Given how restrictive — and expensive — parking is in many cities’ downtown areas, it’s almost silly how big an issue parking fines continue to be in downtown Lawrence. An employee who walks a block to work downtown may actually be walking a shorter distance than someone who has to walk across a large parking lot at a local industrial park or big box store. If they are getting tickets, it’s because they aren’t parking where they’re supposed to park or they aren’t paying the meters.

Keep some quarters in your car and leave home five minutes earlier. Park at a 10-hour meter or in the parking garage. Save the best spots for the customers who ultimately pay your salary.