The effort to curtail downtown parking violations by instituting a new pay as you go system in two popular downtown parking lots was rebuffed again on Wednesday by downtown Bend merchants who object to the loss of free parking for customers.
It is the second time in the past six months that retailers have revolted over a plan to revamp downtown Bend's parking system which is by many accounts plagued by problems, namely shop owners and employees who hopscotch between the free two-hour spaces to avoid tickets. The problem is more than a slight annoyance for the city which spent millions on a downtown parking garage to free up spaces for customers by moving employees into the lot where they could purchase monthly passes. However councilors said Wednesday night that the garage is less than half full. Meanwhile some of the most flagrant parking violators have collected dozens of unpaid tickets and flouted the city's attempt to crack down by challenging the tickets in court--and winning thanks to a loophole in the city's parking rules.
A pay as you go system in the downtown lots would have closed that loophole while generating additional parking revenue for the city. However, downtown merchants said loudly that now is not the right time to institute a new parking fee system in the struggling downtown. Petitioners reportedly collected some 800 signatures in opposition to the change and city councilors reported on Wednesday night that had received a raft of phone calls and emails from parking fee opponents. The staff responded by pulling the parking discussion from the council's action items on Wednesday night's agenda while asking the councilors to weigh in with their thoughts on the issue during a 5 pm work session that took place prior to the regular meeting. Councilors said they agreed that now was not the right time to institute a pay as you go system in the surface lots. They said they were willing to table the issue for a year or more, or at least until some signs of a economic recovery are are evident. The council discussed, but ultimately dismissed the idea of forming another parking committee to review the city's downtown parking strategy, favoring instead to kick the issue back to the Downtown Bend Business Association, which has taken the lead, albeit it clumsily on the parking issue.