Any move by the city of Gloucester that would essentially turn away revenue might seem to border on the absurd.
While a proposal from City Council Planning and Development Chairman Bruce Tobey to remove the parking meters from Main Street could cost Gloucester at least some of a budgeted $104,000 annually, the truth is, it could also provide a real boost for the city's downtown while removing one of the street's few characteristics that can be seen as a real obstacle to welcoming residents and visitors alike.
For one thing, removing the parking meters may not mean much of a hit in terms of downtown parking revenues. Yes, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Towne notes that the meters currently reel in some $2,000 per week. But removing the meters would not drop the revenue to $0.
The city could certainly use policing models used elsewhere to collect fines from those who either try to abuse the free parking privilege, or the city's 2010 parking "shuffle" ordinance, which also bars motorists who either work in downtown businesses or perhaps live in upstairs residences from moving their vehicles a short distance, while still monopolizing space on the street. Newport, R.I., is one city that effectively polices many of its downtown streets without parking meters, with parking officers simply making their rounds, using a piece of chalk to mark each car's tire, then rightfully tagging the vehicle if it's still there when they return an hour or two later, depending on the allowed limits.
Tobey noted that Gloucester Police may already have a higher-tech version of that system at the ready; the license-plate readers the city acquired last year can apparently be used to log the data form where vehicles are parked as well, making it easy to enforce any new downtown parking guidelines.
Finally, while it could be a short-term solution, Gloucester could recoup some of any lost Main Street revenue from a source it should be utilizing anyway — the collection of fees from motorists who continue to park free of charge on the city-owned I-4, C-2 lot off Rogers Street. And let's not forget the city also has meters on other streets and in its downtown Rogers Street lots that would not be affected by any of this,
Look, this isn't a new idea. Indeed, Tobey — who served four terms as mayor from 1994 through 2001, then as City Council president from 2008 through 2009 — said he's tried to push the idea of a meter removal since his first days in the City Hall corner office.
"It's not just about growing revenues, sometimes it's about growing business," he says — and he's right.
This is, quite frankly, a good idea whose time has come. And it's time city officials gave it the chance it deserves _ perhaps through a six-month pilot program of open non-enforcement to get residents, businesses, shoppers and, yes, city officials, used to the idea.
Some might consider Gloucester's meters as something of a traditional part of the Main Street landscape.
But this is one tradition that should be relegated to the past.