Parking meters still a raw deal

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Austin is showing a growing affinity for using parking meters to increase revenue. Recently, parking meter hours were extended downtown to include weeknights and Saturdays. City meter hours at the University were extended until 6 p.m., and these meters are now enforced on Saturdays.

Over the past year, University Area Partners, the neighborhood group that represents the interests of West Campus residents — and in practice often amounts to the interests only of West Campus business owners — has been working with the city to install parking meters in West Campus. This would mean that 400 spaces in West Campus that are currently free would either be metered or would be linked to specific addresses.

The plan was delayed last spring because of Student Government opposition, but a revised implementation scheme was approved last night at the meeting of the city’s Urban Transportation Committee.

The ordinance outlines the process and requirements for creating what is called a “Parking Benefits District.” A district would allow for a part of revenue from meters in an area to be returned to that neighborhood to improve its transportation infrastructure. The money could be used to improve sidewalks and streetlights, to cite the most common examples.

The plan has improved from its original form. A key change was to require a community meeting before any plan can be implemented in a neighborhood. The views of residents in an area will now need to be considered, unlike before.

But the proposal voted on Tuesday night still has one major problem. The proposed profit sharing model originally split profits 70-30, with 30 percent staying in the neighborhood and 70 percent going to the city. The new plan changed the split so that 51 percent of the profits will now stay in the neighborhood.

This revision seems beneficial. But the profit sharing kicks in only after maintenance and enforcement costs have been recovered from revenue. The old version of the plan had a similar provision, but it defined what constituted maintenance and did not include enforcement.

The new plan leaves open the question of how much money will be taken out to pay for overhead before the profit sharing scheme distributes the remaining funds. And it has been estimated that including enforcement as something meter revenue will pay for will cost enough that the increased profit percentage will amount to only about $1,000 more staying in the district.

This sleight of hand does not change the fundamental situation – that not enough money would stay in West Campus to make metered parking a fair deal for the area’s residents.

The ordinance’s neighborhood meeting requirement could be used to prevent the installation of parking meters. But very few students have been involved in this process so far, and it is unlikely that more will be involved in the future.

Affordability is already a problem at this University. The city should pay for safety and infrastructure improvements in any case, and nickel-and-diming students to cover costs which should fall on property owners is not responsible.

Students should not be faced with the large inconvenience of metered parking in West Campus given the marginal benefits that they will see as a result. Either the amount of money staying in West Campus should increase dramatically or the meters should stay out.