City defends parking meter increase as downtown employees turn out in protest

Councilman Seekings says park-and-ride will be available in the next two to three weeks

City leaders are standing by their decision to double parking meter prices and increase enforcement times to 10 p.m. even as dozens of downtown hospitality workers gathered inside and outside Tuesday night’s City Council meeting in protest.

In Charleston, curbside metered parking costs $1 an hour, but that could soon change if city officials follow through on a decision to double the price as part of the city’s budget approval process in December.

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said that the increases were proposed as part of a 2014 Peninsula Mobility Report conducted by consultant Gabe Klein. The recommendations included raising the prices of metered parking, as well as adding shuttles for the peninsula’s hospitals and creating so-called “flex streets,” or streets that don’t allow traffic after a certain time, according to the Charleston Regional Business Journal.

The changes to the peninsula’s curbside parking options were not on last night’s City Council agenda.

Mayor Tecklenburg argued that lax city rules in the past allowed for business to provide little to no parking for their workers.

“If you built a new building today, you’d have to provide a parking space for all of those employees,”  Tecklenburg said. “A lot of business owners, in a way, got a free ticket of not having to provide their employees’ parking.”

The mayor also cited a little-known offer in which downtown employees can park their cars for discounted rates after 3 p.m. and 5 p.m in four city garages.
“So if you’re thinking about that, if you’re out there plugging the meter, so to speak, and then every now and again you got a ticket, it might make economic sense to pay the $5 and be in a garage,” Tecklenburg said.

Kristen White, who works three jobs to support her family, said that curbside parking are a reliable and safe option for her when leaving work late.

“When I go by myself into a dark parking garage as a woman, it’s not safe,” she said.

Council member Mike Seekings, who is also the chairman of CARTA, defended the raise as a way to create more turnover for parking spaces that are meant to be temporary.

“In the main part of the city, the core of the city, there are about 350 parking meters,” he said. “Meter parking is transient parking.”

According to the College of Charleston’s Office of Tourism Analysis, roughly 7,700 people are employed by the city’s 345 food and beverage establishments and 45 hotels.

“If there’s a gripe out there that’s legit it’s that we all need more alternatives,” he added. “We’re going to start the first ever park and ride [on the peninsula] if it all goes perfectly in the next two weeks. If it doesn’t go perfectly, it will be in the next three weeks.”

The interminably forthcoming Morrison Drive hospitality park-and-ride will have 175 spaces when it opens, according to Council member Seekings.

Brittany Pratt, who works at Pearlz Oyster Bar on East Bay Street and held a protest sign outside of City Hall Tuesday evening, says the current parking restrictions are burdensome enough for downtown food and beverage employees.

Charleston limits the time people can park in on-street spaces to two hours.

“We work 10, 11-hour shifts, and you’ll get a $14 ticket for feeding the meter, so I’m having to leave work up to five times a day to go re-move my car and find a different parking spot, which is very difficult downtown,” Pratt said  “Our parking rates right now are comparable and almost up there with Atlanta and Chicago, which are way bigger cities and they also have different forms of transportation which we do not in Charleston.”

Most on-street parking spaces in Atlanta are $2 per hour, according to the city parking website. In Chicago, metered parking ranges from $2 per hour to $6.50.

Parking meter prices will be $2 per hour when the changes go through, putting the price of downtown parking ahead of cities like Charlotte and Columbia. Las year, Savannah, Ga. city leaders accepted a parking plan that will also enforce $2 per hour metered parking in certain sections of downtown, according to the Savannah Morning News.

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