Monday, June 29, 2015

Parking Rates Increase in St. Louis This Week -- But Here Are 3 Reasons That Doesn't Suck

Posted By on Mon, Jun 29, 2015 at 6:30 AM

Meter rates will go up to $1.50 an hour in downtown St. Louis as of July 1. - PHOTO COURTESY OF FLICKR/PETER ROOME
  • Photo Courtesy of Flickr/Peter Roome
  • Meter rates will go up to $1.50 an hour in downtown St. Louis as of July 1.

First off, the bad news: The rate for parking at a meter in St. Louis is going up this Wednesday, July 1. So is the cost of a parking violation.

Previously, a parking fine in the city cost $10 if you paid promptly. Now it will be $15. And while meters used to charge $1 an hour to park downtown, and 75 cents in the rest of the city, as of Wednesday, they'll charge $1.50 an hour in high-demand areas (which includes downtown) and $1 elsewhere.

So that's the bad news. But after talking to Jared Boyd, chief of staff and counsel for the St. Louis City Treasurer's Office, we're convinced things aren't quite as bad as they could be. Here are three silvery linings tucked into those higher rates:

1. Not all meters are going up right away. Currently, St. Louis streets hold a mix of two types of meters -- those fancy ones that take credit cards, which are mostly clustered downtown, and those older models that still require coins.

By now, we were supposed to have all new meters. But, Boyd says, "the time table has been pushed back on some installations." Blame the port strike in Southern California -- when the Teamsters stopped working, that apparently stranded some of our new-fangled parking meters. And while the strike is over, we're still waiting for the backlog to clear.

What does that mean for you? Only the new, credit-card-friendly meters are going up to the higher rates on July 1. The old meters will keep the old rates until their replacement. So, yes, the good news is temporary, but Wednesday won't be quite the day of reckoning we assumed -- in many neighborhoods, it'll be fall before the new meters go in, Boyd says. Enjoy the lower rates while you can.

(Sidenote: Even the older meters can now be paid via the Parkmobile smartphone app, so your lack of quarters needn't hold you back from payment.)

2. You'll have more time to pay parking tickets at the lowest rate.

If you pay a parking ticket promptly in St. Louis, you get a sizable discount -- currently, it costs just $10, increasing to $20 after two weeks. Now the base rate is going up to $15, and that will double to $30 for late payers.

But there's still also a bit of good news on this one: Instead of having two weeks to pay at the lower rate, you'll have three weeks before the fee increases. If you're disorganized, or living paycheck to paycheck, that's good news indeed.

3. A bad quota is gone -- and that means fewer tickets.

Here's the biggest, and best, news of all: Even if each ticket costs more, the city will be writing fewer tickets overall.

That's for two reasons. First, the city has reduced the number of meters within its borders -- from 10,000 to 7,700. Some spots that used to require paying for parking are now entirely free.

Second, and more importantly, the Treasurer's Office has eliminated a quota system that gave the city an incentive to write tickets. As Boyd explains it, the city contracts with a for-profit vendor to process parking ticket payments. The way that contract was written encouraged ticket-writing -- if the city didn't write up enough parking violations in any given month, it actually had to write a check to the vendor.

In 2013, there was a changing of the guard in the Treasurer's Office for the first time in 30 years. New Treasurer Tishaura Jones soon thereafter issued a request for proposals for a new outside vendor -- and, in the new contract, eliminated the quota component.

The new contract went into effect this year. Going forward, Boyd says, the lack of quota means "we might issue less tickets." And that's not just good for you: "That's good for the city."

No argument here.

We welcome tips and feedback. Contact the writer via email at sarah.fenske@riverfronttimes.com.

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