People hate paying to park, and they can display incredible ingenuity when it comes to finding ways to avoid it.
In the two parking lots next to Mirror Pond, for example, some people who work downtown have invented a clever dodge. They park their cars and take advantage of the first-two-hours-free deal. Then they come back and buy a parking sticker for $1. That lets them park a total of five hours for a measly buck.How many downtown employees are working this scam? We don't know, but city officials and Diamond Parking - which enforces downtown parking restrictions and gets a cut of the revenue from parking fines and the pay parking lots - say it's a significant number. And what they propose to do about it is to eliminate the two free hours.
Unfortunately, there seems to be no way to stop the scammers without penalizing everybody who legitimately uses the parking lots. Diamond has tried issuing tickets to the scammers, but they get thrown out of court because the cheaters' parking receipts don't show that they snuck in an extra two free hours.
When Diamond first installed pay kiosks in the previously free Mirror Pond lots, downtown merchants complained - with good reason - that the move would drive away customers. As a compromise, Diamond agreed to let the first two hours of parking be free. But now, bowing to the inevitable, the merchants have decided to bite the bullet and go along with Diamond's proposal.
With the Downtown Business Association, Diamond and city staff all behind it, city council approval of the plan looks like a slam dunk. That's a regrettable thing.
As we said at the beginning, people will show great ingenuity in finding ways to park for free. Would-be downtown shoppers don't even have to be ingenious - they can just drive to the Old Mill District or one of Bend's several malls, all of which have acres of free parking. And if they start getting nicked a dollar for every hour they park in the downtown lots, that's what many of them will do.
Besides the cost, there's the hassle of having to get out of your car, walk to the kiosk (maybe in the rain or snow), buy a sticker, walk back and put it in your car even if you're only going to be parked for a few minutes.
Driving away customers is the last thing downtown needs, especially when its shops and restaurants are struggling to make it through the worst recession in 80 years. And losing their jobs because their employers go out of business or can no longer afford to pay them is the last thing downtown employees need. But it seems they're willing to run that risk for the sake of saving a few dollars on parking. (They can park in the city garage for $5 a day.)
We've given the downtown parking hogs THE BOOT before, but obviously the lesson didn't take. So we're giving them THE BOOT again - although it's probably too late to do any good.