Saturday, May 9, 2009

Weiner Opposes New Meter Rates Across City, Borough by Ben Hogwood - Queens Chronicle

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Congressman Anthony Weiner holds up a parking ticket, decrying the city’s recent increase in parking meter rates. (photo by Ben Hogwood)

If there’s one thing sure to ruin a day at the shops, it’s that dreaded orange envelope, tucked neatly under a windshield wiper, marked “parking violation.”

And those envelopes may be on display a little more often in the borough than in the past.

Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-Queens and Brooklyn) criticized the city on April 16 for surreptitiously increasing the rates at parking meters along shopping strips in the borough and across the city.

The city began phasing in the new rates, charging 25 cents for 20 minutes rather than 30 minutes, in February and recently made the change along Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven. Weiner assembled with state Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach), as well as shop owners, who said the city initiated the changes in the night with no notification.

“It’s not so much that we lost 10 minutes at a parking meter,” Weiner said. “It was how it was done.”

In particular, the city didn’t notify business owners along the strip, said Maria Thomson, executive director of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corp. and the Woodhaven Business Improvement District.

“No one told us about it,” Thomson said. “There was no warning, there was no hearing, there was no input.”

As a result, customers have been left equally in the dark. Now people are putting in a quarter expecting to get a half hour and returning to find tickets on their cars.

“If this is waiting for you when you get out,” Weiner said, holding up a violation, “your entire [shopping] experience has been spoiled.”

Addabbo said the change could affect how much time people spend in stores, because they have less time to shop. “We are asking the city to reconsider,” he said.

The parking meter was invented by Carl Magee and introduced in Oklahoma City in 1935. Magee had been appointed to the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce traffic committee, and he was assigned the task of solving the parking problems in downtown Oklahoma City. Apparently, workers in the area were parking their cars on the streets of downtown Oklahoma City all day, leaving few spaces for shoppers visiting the business district.

While the primary goal was to fix those parking problems, generating revenue has always been an important aspect, and according to news reports, Magee was well aware of that at the time.

But Weiner says the tide has turned too much and now the meters are hurting those they were designed to help — the business owners. The city issues parking tickets with such zeal that it is turning off Queens shoppers, he continued. In 2008, the city issued 10 million parking tickets.

“There are only 8 million citizens in the city,” he noted.

Steve Esposito, owner of Orthopedic Shoe Clinic on Jamaica Avenue, said parking fees and fines like these will push shoppers out to Long Island, where parking is largely free.

“The mayor may be a great mayor, but as he can’t tax us any more, he’s fining us to death,” Esposito said.

Dean Montgomery, a spokesman for the city Department of Transportation, which operates the meters, said the DOT completed the rate change for 17,842 meters in Queens last month and has not heard those concerns anywhere else.
In fact, Montgomery said communities in Manhattan and Brooklyn have requested much higher rates during peak hours of the day as a way to increase turnover and available parking in commercial districts.
He also noted that the mayor announced the increases in January as part of his budget proposal for the year, and that inserts indicating the new rate were installed as each meter was reprogrammed.

Herman Kaiser, a Woodhaven resident who comes to Jamaica Avenue every day to pick up a newspaper, said he found out about the rate change when he dropped a quarter in a meter. He noted the heavy police presence that day, looking for parking violators.

“I guess they are doing it slow and sure ... to make money,” he said, after dropping two quarters into a meter. He didn’t expect too many people to be caught out by the change in rates, but also didn’t expect a return to the old ones.
“People are not stupid, but what can you do about it?” he said. “Nothing.”