Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration seems determined to double downtown parking meter rates and extend meter hours to 10 p.m. — but the administration seems to be alone in thinking that's a good idea. As the law is written, Landrieu and the Department of Public Works have the authority to raise meter rates without the City Council's approval. At a recent council meeting, a majority of council members spoke out against the scheme, and a parade of downtown residents and workers explained why it would be a financial hardship. They're right, and why the city is pushing so hard on this issue is puzzling.
Meter rates downtown currently are $1.50 an hour. The city would like to raise that to $3 an hour, meaning someone who parked to work an eight-hour shift in the French Quarter, CBD or Warehouse District would drop $24 a day for on-street parking and be tasked with running to feed the meter every two hours until 10 p.m.
Nearly 5,000 people live downtown. Are they expected to leave their homes to feed a meter after 6 p.m.? What about people attending sports or cultural events that begin at 7 p.m. or 7:30 p.m.? Are restaurant and hotel workers expected to leave their stations to go feed a meter that might be blocks away?
Deputy Mayors Andy Kopplin and Cedric Grant defended the move, suggesting that higher rates would mean more "turnover" of spaces, presumably boosting business downtown. There's no evidence to support that notion. The Louisiana Restaurant Association and the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau oppose the plan. In fact, no one at the council meeting — other than the deputy mayors — spoke in favor of the hikes.
Kopplin suggested the city could step up public transportation to help quell parking issues, but the city has no specific plan to do so — and representatives of the Regional Transit Authority said they weren't consulted. Finally, Kopplin attempted to reassure everyone that the burden would fall mostly on tourists. That's hardly reassuring, let alone believable.
In his recent budget proposal, Landrieu estimated that extending hours and hiking fees would draw an additional $2.7 million for the city. The extra money wouldn't be dedicated to public safety or street repairs, but rather would go into the general fund.
The city has largely recovered from the financial crisis Landrieu inherited. At just over $600 million, his 2016 budget is more than $100 million higher than his 2010 budget. Why burden workers, residents and visitors with a fee hated by all — just to augment the budget by less than one-half of 1 percent?
Some have pointed out, correctly, that Landrieu and his siblings own a plot of land in the CBD that's leased to a parking company. The mayor's office says there's "no conflict, period." Even so, the rate hike is a bad idea, period. Its drawbacks far outweigh its projected benefits, and downtown meter rates should remain close to those elsewhere in the city. We hope the mayor will reconsider this proposal.