Nate: I think that the time has come to consider paid, metered parking for downtown Rockland. The city needs revenue (especially from tourists and visitors), and I’d like to encourage people to use alternate modes of transportation. What say you, Becca?

Becca: I’m not thrilled to impose any more financial burdens on people who can’t afford it, and I also don’t like penalizing people who may have trouble with biking or walking and therefore driving is a better option for them. I also am nervous about the idea of making downtown seem that much more out of reach and even elitist for people in town. Of course I agree with finding ways to get more money out of tourists and people with money but, as usual, any one-size-fits-all “solution” that involves finances doesn’t adequately take into account the deep inequity our society is perpetuating, and therefore financial solutions end up hurting those with little money while not significantly affecting those with more. Why not start with an experimental sliding-scale solution for parking wherein people with money and resources contribute, and those without are allowed to opt out or pay what they can? I love the idea of trusting people and seeing what happens.

Nate: I’m open to it, but I wonder what the mechanics would be. Could we just allow people to pay what they want? Could we recommend a certain fee? I wonder if the vendors who provide credit-card terminals could accommodate such a system. Alternately, we could charge a standard fee but use other means to relieve the burden on local people (and shift it to visitors and tourists), such as by issuing parking passes to everyone who lives or works in Rockland. Though I would also like to encourage Rocklanders who can do so to use their cars less and their feet more. More generally, I want to disrupt car culture and the pernicious development patterns it has created.

Becca: First of all, what’s the cost of installing those metered systems? What’s the cost of policing parking spots as is? What I was imagining was a low-tech option the city installed itself. You already have police coming to check on hourly spots; can’t they continue that (if it’s deemed necessary)? And yes, sliding scales usually include a suggested range, with a higher amount suggested for those who can give more, and a medium amount for a baseline. There would also be a short explanation of why the sliding scale is being attempted: an experiment in class equity. But give me your best reasoning for why you think charging for parking is a good solution. Is it effective elsewhere, and how much net profit do you anticipate?

Nate: One recent local example is Bar Harbor. According to a Bangor Daily News article from November 2019, “Bar Harbor netted more than $1.5 million in its first season charging for downtown parking, three times the amount town officials said they expected from parking fees, fines and permits.” I don’t know if $1.5 million is a realistic number for Rockland, though, and I haven’t seen or done any local projections. But there has been a bunch of research (especially by UCLA economist Donald Shoup) about the ill effects of free parking: congestion, sprawl, pollution, etc., and I think it’s well established that free parking is bad for cities. As you suggest, “paid parking” doesn’t necessarily mean “high-tech metered parking,” though as a practical matter, many people (including me) enjoy the convenience of credit and debit cards, so it’s tough for me to imagine a successful cash-only system.

Becca: The money is alluring but you haven’t won me over yet. Re: sprawl, wouldn’t it make sense to have free parking in downtown (and paid elsewhere) in order to slow down sprawl? I personally enjoy the “convenience” of cash, such as anonymity and not handing over a cut in profits of every exchange to greedy credit-card companies. Also, fundamentally, before any kind of metered system goes in, long-term planning has to be done: Would you be metering as though Main Street will continue in perpetuity to have parking on both sides versus having a greenway and bike lanes? You’re talking about wanting to create a disincentive for driving, but that has to go along with incentivizing walking, biking, getting around by wheelchair and strollers, etc., which is why it makes sense to not just throw a bunch of meters in place but to rethink Main Street and other streets completely beforehand.

Nate: As usual, we’re almost out of space. It seems like we disagree over metered parking, but maybe we can agree on this: Let’s end the tyranny of the automobile!