Editorial: Free parking could pay off in Old Town - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: Free parking could pay off in Old Town

Why does the city charge for parking in Old Town?

“Because it can” isn’t the right answer. On the occasions the city offers free parking at city-owned lots during the holiday season, merchants say business picks up.

Yes, that might be a chicken-egg thing. The city knows people will spend more money anyway during that time, so increased tax collections on retail transactions may offset any dip in parking revenues, affording the city an easy opportunity to get with the spirit of the season.

But it’s certainly worth experimenting at other times of the year to ascertain whether parking issues are a barrier to more robust commerce in an area where the city should want as much economic activity as possible. If making parking free on a permanent basis results in higher tax receipts that approach existing parking revenues, it’s something the city should consider. But it won’t know until it tries.

Last year the city earned $24,232 from Old Town parking meters. And while that doesn’t include what the city makes from charging for parking in lots it owns, it’s hard to believe the city couldn’t make up the parking revenues by encouraging more shopping/dining/museum visits to Old Town.

For reference, the city’s annual budget is $800 million. Oh, and unlike parking, all city bus rides are free.

To be clear, some parking is free, which contributes to a confusing array of choices. In Old Town there is free two-hour parking along several of the streets, private paid parking lots that often offer daily rates, paid parking lots operated by the city, paid parking lots surrounding the Albuquerque Museum, and free parking several blocks away.

Shop owners say the mix can be confusing. At a minimum, the city should consider better signage or easy-to-access brochures explaining the parking options.

One business owner said she sees people receive parking citations in front of her shop on Rio Grande and South Plaza Street almost daily due to the lack of clear signage. That’s not an experience we want visitors to have.

Parking is a long-standing source of frustration for everyone in Old Town — merchants, locals and out-of-towners. There are opportunities here to experiment with free parking and see if there’s a formula that works better for all.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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