Thursday, April 23, 2009
Shoppers, Business Owners Outraged Over Parking Meter Rate Hike
By Conor Greene
Drivers who park at metered spots along local shopping strips will have to shell out a little more change to avoid a ticket, now that the city has reduced the amount of time a quarter gets you from a half hour to twenty minutes.
The city Department of Transportation recently finished reprogramming the borough’s 17,842 meters to reflect the new parking rates. Mayor Michael Bloomberg first announced in January that the rates at the city’s least-expensive meter would be increased for the first time since 1992 to raise an additional $16.8 million and help bridge the city’s $4 billion budget gap.
However, because the decision came as part of the mayor’s overall budget proposal, it didn’t receive widespread attention at the time. As a result, many shoppers and businesses say they were caught off-guard when the rates were recently increased literally overnight.
“Queens shoppers are being nickel-and-dimed at the expense of small businesses,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Queens and Brooklyn) at a press conference along Jamaica Avenue last Thursday. “We want to help local neighborhood stores, not drive shoppers away.”
Weiner was joined at the press conference by Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), Maria Thompson of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corp. and several local small business owners. The meter rate increase is being phased in for 47,000 single-space meters and 730 muni-meters citywide. Adding insult to injury, the city has also increased fines that accompany parking tickets each of the past four years, said Weiner.
According to the congressman, the city expects to collect $66 million more this year from parking tickets. In 2008, ten million parking tickets were issued citywide, and the number of parking tickets issued between 2002 and 2008 has risen by 42%. Along Jamaica Avenue between 91st and 92nd streets, more than 1,000 parking tickets were issued from 2007 to 2008.
“It’s hard not to see the impact of the economy on the neighborhood shopping strip,” said Weiner, whose office recently completed a study showing more than 200 vacant storefronts along eight shopping districts, including 80 along Jamaica Avenue alone. While recognizing the need to have spaces turnover on a regular basis, Weiner questioned the motive behind the increase. “The issue is whether or not the city is interested in helping the businesses or just filling the coffers… This is a time we should ask the city to take its foot off the gas.”
Addabbo questioned the manner in which the city implemented the change, and stressed that the ten minutes “truly is going to hurt” local businesses. “We need to find another way… without constantly hurting the middle class and small businesses,” he said. On a personal note, Addabbo said he is “hurt” by the closure of Jason’s Toy Store, which now stands shuttered across the avenue from where the press conference was held. “My father took me to Jason’s when I was a small kid. It represents part of my childhood,” he said.
Thompson noted that small businesses “put up with so much everyday” and took the city to task for not publicizing the rate increase better. “No one told us. There was no warning, no hearing, no input,” she said. “I think that’s very unfair to the community.”
Several small business owners along Jamaica Avenue said the increase has already hurt them. Steve Esposito, owner of Orthopedic Shoe Clinic, said he fears the increased rates will make customers from Long Island less likely to come to his store. “If they get a ticket, they aren’t going to come back,” he said. “Since he [the mayor] can’t tax us anymore, he’s fining us to death.”
Matthew Xenakis, who owns Park Place Greenery and Florist, said drivers will be tempted to head for the malls, where parking is less expensive and spaces more plentiful. He said a delivery man recently got a ticket after dropping flowers off at his shop. “I felt bad so I gave him the money. No one told us anything about it or give us a warning,” he said.