Those are the things that WILL happen if the city goes through with its plans to lease control of its parking garages and meters to a private, for-profit operator.
Here's what MIGHT happen with the money: a one-time fund to close a budget deficit, fewer layoffs of city employees, money for a downtown park, money to fix up a downtown mall, money to start a big highway interchange project near downtown, and money for a bike path that starts...wait for it...downtown.
This assumes of course that the money flows in as projected. (stadium sales tax, casino revenue) and that city council doesn't change its mind 15 times during the next budget crisis.
I'd like to believe that city residents will regret Cincinnati's newest venture into privatization, but memories are short. And once we get a few years into this 30-year mistake, very few of the council members making this short-sighted decision will be in office when the worst of the consequences occur.
Devil in the details
According to a pretty cool map the city has 4,821 functioning parking meters at the moment. Remember this number. It's going to go up, and it will be felt all over town.
Remember that the meters were in effect from 9 to 5 Mon. thru Sat., with some downtown meters in effect until 6 pm. Downtown meter rates will stay at $2 an hour -- initially. But they'll be in effect longer, from 8 am to 9 pm, about four hours longer for the meters that run til 6 pm. Take that diners! Take that people who use street parking for Reds games and big festivals! Meanwhile, neighborhood meter rates increase to 75 cents an hour. Many of those meters are charging 50 cents an hour, so this will be a 50 percent price hike. AND these more expensive meters will be in effect from 7 am to 9 pm; about six more hours a day. Take that UC students! Take that shoppers and diners of every neighborhood square in town!
I bet the shop owners of Oakley, Northside, Mount Lookout, Mount Washington, Hyde Park, Over-the-Rhine, Pendleton, Price Hill and other commercial areas are expecting these price hikes to boost their customer flow. I bet they're thrilled.
Meanwhile, the private "operator" gets to keep ticket revenue, giving them great incentive to be hawkish on enforcement. While it's true the operator can only boot cars in cases of extreme non-compliance (at least 3 unpaid tickets), watch how quick they'll be at nabbing the violators with those 3 unpaid tickets.
Who wins with privatization?
Publicly traded corporations would not be getting into taking over city parking systems if there wasn't a huge profit to be made. But they are, because there is.
Chicago's legendarily terrible parking lease deal was bad enough to make New York City walk away from privatization. But that doesn't help drivers in Chicago, who now pay the nation's highest parking rates. But the parking system operator is doing quite well, thank you. Meanwhile, Chicago has already spent virtually all the up-front money it got from their terrible deal.
It's hard for me to see how Cincinnati's economy will benefit by making everyday dining and shopping activities that much more expensive for people. Are wages soaring in this town? Do people have spare change to burn? Typically, businesses squawk at even the tiniest "job killing" tax hikes. Are they squawking about the parking rate tax hike? Some are. But I don't think the city's power interests are listening, even though this tax hike will leave customers with less money to spend at the various businesses we try to attract by offering generous tax breaks.
And once again, downtown interests will benefit the most from spoils collected from non-downtown activity. None of the parking meter revenue is slated to go back into fixing up our aging neighborhoods or repaving our shattered streets. But hey, we'll get a longer riverfront bike path and a fancier downtown park, and some downtown developer will profit from a subsidized retrofit of a downtown building.
And then next year there will be another budget "crisis." And the city will pretend this slow motion train wreck is an "emergency" that requires side-stepping the few checks and balances that exist in our local governmental system. This action cannot be overturned via referendum, the courts say. And thanks to a procedural move, Mayor Mallory can override a majority of city council members who now oppose the lease deal -- including folks from his own party.
Of course, we shouldn't be surprised. The public hasn't shown much interest in protecting itself from government abuses of power in Cincinnati or anywhere else in America. So add jacked-up parking rates to the many things that happen when people don't pay attention and don't show up to vote.
For some background reading
Unions are skeptical, but here, Democrats are pushing the plan. Hmmm.
Some interesting revenue figures buried here…
Reactions in Indianapolis...
NYC walked away…
Chicago drivers pay a price…
SF blogger calls this a “War on Cars”