Published April 5, 2011


TWISler Breakdown: Paid parking returns to downtown Sarasota

Now, the TWISler knows just as well as anyone about the pure joy it is trying to find a spot to park in downtown Sarasota. And thank heavens the new Palm Ave. garage lightened the load a bit when it opened this winter. But as much as we love bitchin’ about parking, we sure haven’t shown much willingness to pay for it. Well, the citizens haven’t anyway…. But the politicos are the ones running the show, and they say paid parking it is. So, starting next week you can prepare to see the glorious installation of 459 metered spaces from Cocoanut and Gulfstream east to Orange, and First down to State and McAnsh Square.

Some treasured gems, like the spots across from the Palm garage, will be graced with their very own meter. But most spots will be purchased by way of pay station. You just input the number painted in front out your slice of pavement into the machine, and pay the toll with some spare change or your Visa. Hey, it’s everywhere you want to be – including your favorite parking spot. No paper bills though, folks. So keep that bank card handy.

The number being tossed around is one buck per every hour of parking bliss, available on a pay-as-you-go basis. And they’re offering a quarter for 15-minutes special for the few of us in this town who are actually in a hurry. But no worries! The fees will definitely be worth every penny if PETA gets their wish to advertise on all our brand new pay stations. The animal-rights vigilantes wrote Mayor Kelly Kirschner a letter back in January after they heard about our plans to charge by the lot, and they’re looking to spice up our stations with sexy ads featuring a naughty cop in a belly shirt and booty shorts with the line, “Going vegan is your ticket to good health,” appearing over a half-peeled banana. I can’t see how anybody in town would have a problem with that… Hey, at least it’s not bloody animal furs, and they’ll be helping to pay for all these suckers.

Those cool little three-wheel ticket tanks that we all wish we had, but always hate to see, currently patrol the streets until 6 p.m. But with our new parking oppression being enforced from 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, city staff is proposing to keep meter readers on the beat for the extra two hours. And if you think you’re going to outsmart the meter maid brigade, you’re playing with fire. Those nifty hand-held devices they carry will let them know instantly if any pay-station space in the city is being violated. The upside to this newfangled wireless rigging is that you can pay for your spot from any station in the city, so no more sprinting back to the car to quarter your slot. Just find the closest card reader, and make sure you remember your number.

If this is all totally bumming you out, you may take comfort in knowing that there will still be 648 spaces offered free of charge, mostly around the perimeter of the metered area. But you better get in and out quick because these babies come with a two-hour limit. The 1,116 parking garage spots in the area will remain free of time limitations, but they’ll run you 50 cents an hour to rent. One creative way the city is trying to make this more bearable is the idea of giving retailers a card that they can impart to their most loyal customers, which will temporarily relieve them from their $1 financial burden. But unless you’re friends with a lot of store owners, you should probably count on adding a tip for the parking fairy to your total cost of dining downtown.

Keep in mind that we’ve played this game before, and those meters ended up in the scrape yard. And with a price tag of $510,000 for parts and labor, we better hope these things don’t scare away too many penny-pinchers. The city expects to run a deficit this year, but eventually they say our new pay-to-park program will generate between $400,000 and $500,000 in revenue annually. Let’s hope so…

Of course, this week only marks the first phase of our free parking crackdown, with more of downtown’s sacred spots scheduled to be put up for bid at some point in the near future. But the test run has begun, and if it helps to get our parking enforcement budget back in the black and make the most of underutilized spaces, than it will probably turn out to be a good thing. But it will still always sting a bit with every card swipe.

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