Downtown Businesses React to Parking Meter Rate Increase

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COLUMBIA - The City of Columbia is considering a parking meter rate increase, and local businesses said Monday they're asking Columbia residents for their input on the change.

The Community Improvement District and the Central Columbia Association, better known as The District, sent out two surveys late last week asking Columbia residents for their opinion. One survey asked participants how they feel about a possible increase in parking meter rates downtown. A second asked for thoughts about a shuttle downtown to take patrons to and from parking garages.

The city is contemplating raising meter rates from between 30 and 50 cents per hour to 60 cents per hour. Additionally, the city is looking to extend parking meter pay hours from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. But under the plan, parking garages would remain free of charge after 6 p.m. The survey also asks participants whether they support this kind of measure, and if they have ideas for making parking "easier and more convenient" downtown.

Andrew DuCharme is the general manager of Lakota Coffee. He said the meter increase is a bad idea.

"I know customers won't like it and neither will I, as I park downtown every day. Since I work downtown, I have to park downtown. Personally, I'm not going to like the increase.

Skip Walther, chair of the Community Improvement District, said the rates probably would not deter customers from continuing to shop downtown. But he said the extension of the paid hours may prevent people from staying downtown as long.

"You don't want a meter program that deters people from coming downtown," Walther said. "I'm not at all sure the rate increase itself would do that because, let's face it, relative to other cities our size, our meters are cheap."

Walther said there are alternatives to raising parking meter rates across the board. One alternative, he said, is to look at the demand for parking meters in various areas.

"For instance, think about the area close to campus. Those meters are used by students under any circumstances, regardless if they cost 30 cents an hour, 50 cents an hour, or 75 cents an hour. So, bump up rates in areas like that with high demand.

Another alternative Walther talked about benefited people going downtown for entertainment.

"Instaed of increasing hours of operation to 9 p.m., perhaps they should increase to 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. which would then give people who want to go to dinner and a movie that two hour window without having to worry about moving their cars or getting a ticket," Walther said.

To take one or both of The District's surveys, visit Links to the surveys are on the top, right side.

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