I’m going to argue for free parking in Brattleboro.
The main reason we have to pay for parking here and not in most other towns in Vermont is to pay for our parking meters, parking enforcement, and parking infrastructure. Other than helping to pay for parking lot paving and snow removal, this is a silly, unnecessary burden for locals and visitors, and could instead be money spent in downtown stores.
To make my point, I’ll use an absurd idea.
We could have a tire burning utility. All the money from tire burning would cover the costs of the operation, and provide for future improvements for more tire burning. We could raise fees for dropping off tires every so often, and maintain the system. It could even be a model for other communities!
But, maybe getting rid of the utility would a better option. Maybe more people would come to town if we didn’t have a pile of burning rubber.
Many other towns have free parking. It makes it easy to visit, shop, and dine. Just pull up and go. The natural laws of how long errands take keep spaces in circulation. And police can ticket or wheel-lock vehicles that break any rules.
Most of the parking utility revenues over the last decade have been used to pay off a parking garage that is semi-useful. And it still isn’t paid off.
Paid parking hasn’t boosted downtown shopping or dining. If anything, having the meters and machines have increased panhandling by providing easy public spots to ask for money. If there were no parking kiosks in Harmony Lot, I bet reports of being asked for change there would drop.
Advertise free parking and watch the crowds increase, which would boost downtown sales, which would boost the local option tax revenue.
Sell the parking garage to a private company. Use that income to fix the Municipal Center.
Demand a local option tax for marijuana sales, and set aside a portion of it to cover parking maintenance.
Eliminate the Parking Fund and there’s one less budget to create, monitor, edit, act upon. That means more staff time for more important items. It’s more efficient!
There are lots of ways to make parking work without the Parking Utility. We won’t, of course, do any of them. We’ll keep raising rates and buying into out-of-town services. When the next type of payment comes along, the whole system will be scrapped and replaced to take advantage of orb-crypto, or whatever the next big payment system is called.
When we add credit cards and phone apps to parking, panhandlers might be replaced with real thieves. We’re providing new things they can target. Will someone’s credit card be taken from them? How about if they fumble with a phone? Brattleboro may be installing thief-attractors and calling them a convenience.
One final example: Milford, NH used to have parking meters, but if you visit today you see they’ve all been removed. Why? It works better, and is less of a hassle for everyone.