Friday, July 3, 2009

Metered Parking or Skinner Box?

Sometimes I'm slow in coming up with good responses to intelligent questions. Such was the case of the metering of the Plattekill Avenue parking lot.

I told Terry Dungan that I didn't like the idea of metering the lot, because the stated objective was to open up more parking downtown, but the means was just a way to increase revenue for the Village. I don't believe governments should use taxation and fees as a means of behavior modification - if you want us to do something differently, just make a law telling us what's what instead of hiding it behind a way to charge us more money.

Terry explained to me that to regulate the parking entirely with enforcement would be impossible, as the officer wouldn't have any way to keep track of who was parked where, and for how long. Chalking isn't really viable, and just walking around noting down plate numbers would take forever.

However, we've got that fancy new meter on the lot now, and I don't know why it needs to charge money in order to work. If it were set to free, it would still be able to allow people to type in their plate number, and it still would be able to print out a report for a parking enforcement officer of what spaces should be empty. It still could deny people the right to enter the same plate number for the same spot for two consecutive periods, and presumably it could still help the officer identify scammers who just lie about their plate numbers in order to park for a longer period of time.

If we were to take Jason's idea of building a hidden parking garage, the money would make more sense because it would be to pay for the building, but given that the Thruway was paid off in 1986 but still has tolls in 2009, I don't trust my politicians not to pull the same kind of shenanigans.

Therefore, I have to assume that the Village Board really wants the money, and doesn't have the nerve to just ask the citizens for it. Fees hidden in behavior modification are among some of the most offensive of governmental bait-and-switch tactics. If you don't want us parking, the technology exists to deter that behavior without charging us more money. If you want more money, the legal mechanisms exist to honestly and open raise taxes without hiding it in parking fees. It sure would be nice to separate the two so that we could transparently look at these unrelated issues.


Brittany Turner said...

Nicely done.

Martin McPhillips said...

It took me about three looks to get the "Skinner Box" reference. At first I'm thinking, "is that a conceptual take on a parking meter?" Finally, I realized that you are refering to the behaviorist B.F. Skinner and the sick contraption he developed for child-rearing.

Sometimea a parking meter is just a parking meter.

Terence said...

Martin, if the Village Board hadn't said, "We're metering the lot to resolve the parking problem," then I could agree. However, the stated goal was behavior modification - they're using the pellet of punishment to get people to park elsewhere, or to shorten their stay.
Moral issues aside, this creates a quandary for the tourist economy we have, since presumably people coming from far away are less likely to be able to walk or bike to village destinations. Tourism is a horrible base for an economy, and it would be nice to put in something other than, oh, another Blockhead's in the village so we could have a few jobs that pay a decent living, but it's what we've got. Even if you don't mind having your mind molded by politicians who speak out of both sides of their mouths, you should be concerned that this stopgap solution is exacerbating the problems with our unbalanced economic model.

John Bligh said...

I like the idea of free meters, but that will never happen as, like you pointed out with the Thruway, once the revenue source is established, it's difficult to make it go away.

A parking garage would be great (especially during winter when snow makes finding spots more difficult) but it would have to very well-planned as the eye-sore potential is huge for such a structure so close to the center of town.

Bob Fagan said...

Besides the parking fee, the entrance to the parking lot is embarrassing for New Paltz. The sign itself announcing the metered parking looks like a yard sale sign and the row of trash cans is not too appealing.
See photo here:

Steve Greenfield said...

This one throws me off a bit, Terence, in a couple of areas.

I like fiscal policy as a behavior modification tool. There's an old adage that you subsidize what you want, and tax what you don't. One reason for that is apparent: modifying behavior by edict is harsh. We reserve that for crimes, not for personal practices that are legal but less than entirely desirable. Another reason is that it works. The taxes need not be revenue-positive, and in fact the revenues generated can be used to pay the subsidies for things we DO want: solar panels, open space preservation, property tax breaks for local small proprietorships, etc.-- things we want that have costs. It's a highly effective combination that accomplishes its goals without using police and courts, which are expensive and when relied upon to settle small and big alike, tend to suffocate the spirit and create a sense of police-state. I can't even imagine what the secondary enforcement costs would be for your edicts-only concept.

I also don't get the problem with a tourism economy, for all kinds of reasons. Since almost all tourism here is based upon our natural splendor (nowadays called ecotourism), it gives us a huge society-wide financial incentive to keep this place beautiful and not turn it into Paramus. When someone wants to build an electrical plant or industrial park west of the Wallkill, it just ain't gonna happen, because it will be our business community rather than just the hippies that will be on point in blocking it. Also, tourism does not equal chain stores. Just ask Rich over at Rock and Snow, or Doug over at The Bistro, or any of our apple farmers. Most of the jobs created by tourism are the livelihoods of small, local family-owned businesses, which is ideal and to be encouraged. There are, after all, just so many tie-dyed t-shirts and antiques the local population can use.

And as long as those tourists are coming here for purposes that incentivize us to preserve our natural beauty and history, why not make them pick up a higher percentage of the costs their presence generates? If the locals have less prominent places to park, and/or the ability to get around on foot, bike, or bus, and taxing visitor parking generates revenues that would otherwise be entirely placed on the local residents, what's the problem with that?

I haven't read Jason's parking lot proposal. I guess I'll head over there now. My concept (just a concept -- Village parking solutions is not my prime focus) has been to submerge parking at the pit (or some other suitable location) beneath a green roof that would serve as the picnic grounds currently missing from Hasbrouck Park. If that gets financed by taxing the tourists who park there, which in turn allows them to fully patronized the shops on downtown Main Street, it looks a lot like a win-win to me.