Striking a Balance
It's an age-old problem in Providence: finding a place to park. Now the city is relying on increased revenue from stepped-up parking enforcement to help balance its budget this year. But how is it affecting local businesses? Jim Hummel speaks with one not-too-happy store owner - and the commissioner of public safety, who weighs in on what drivers can expect when they come to the city.
Parking has always been a challenge in Providence, but recently-stepped-up enforcement means you have a better chance of getting a ticket. This week the commissioner of public safety weighs in on what to expect - while one store owner tells the news policy hurting businesses.
If you're trying to park in Providence you better pay attention to the signs - as the city is relying on increased parking ticket revenue to help balance this year's budget. One big change: adjusting the hours of the enforcement officers.
Pare: ``Routinely after 3:30 (p.m.) there was no enforcement other than police officers writing tickets, but that was rare. So we've changed the hours for the parking enforcement officers. Some weekends and after 3:30 so people don't violate the parking ordinances, we'll be out there enforcing.''
The mayor's office tells us Providence is banking on an increase in parking meter fees from $1.3 million to $1.6 million - a 23 percent increase.
And a boost in enforcement and ticketing revenue from $7 million to $9 million, a 28.5 percent increase.
Public Safety Commissioner Stephen Pare acknowledges the city has upped its revenue projections for this year's budget.
Hummel: ``This is a revenue issue too - and you're on the enforcement side, but they've made it very clear their projections for revenue are pretty aggressive. So is the word going out to the people in the field: we really need to be writing tickets?''
Pare: ``Yeah, that's their job, so they walk around the city and write tickets, and they're expected to write tickets. But you can do it in a way that's balanced. You don't have to be catching someone that perhaps is there for 5 to 10 minutes, running in to get a coffee or a sandwich. It has to be balanced and we're trying to strike that balance.''
Asselin: ``I got a ticket for parking beyond the driveway, where there is nothing posted about no parking.''
Susan Asselin moved her business to the corner of Dean and Kenyon in the heart of Federal Hill a year ago. She says the intersection was then re-designed and she lost two parking spaces in front of her store.
Asselin got a $30 ticket when she parked down the road on Kenyon Street. The offense: parking in a no-parking zone. But she says - and we confirmed - there are no signs for more than a hundred yards. there is a no parking sign, but it's on the other side of the street.
She then parked on the next street over, Federal, where there was a lone sign for 2-hour parking down the street, which she didn't see, and got tagged for another $20 ticket.
Asselin: ``It's only one sign, way down and you can't see it. If you're coming from here, you happen to spot a parking spot, you turn around in someone's driveway and grab it; you're totally unawares that you're parking in a time-prohibited area.''
Pare: ``There has to be signage and our parking enforcement officers should be notifying our DPW so we can put up the proper signage.''
Asselin said a few days later she saw more cars ticketed on Kenyon.
Asselin: ``I had a blind client, I walked her out - so she could meet her ride and I spotted the meter maid giving somebody a ticket over here, same place that I got a ticket where there is no sign at all. And I calmly walked over and said: `Excuse me can I ask you a question?
Why are you ticketing that car?' And this woman totally blew up at me - and started screaming `I'll put as many tickets as I want on this care, you keep asking me questions I'll put another ticket on it. See the sign over there, it says no parking.'
``I said `That's across the street.' Well there's a sign down there. Yeah, that's for those two spots over there. What's that got to with over here `Keep it going lady 'cause I'm going to put as many tickets on this car as I want.' I said `I don't care, it's not my car.' I said `that's my business over there I'm asking because my clients park here.' And she started swearing at me and ordered me back in my business. ''
Commissioner Pare says: that is unacceptable.
Pare: ``It's a difficult job. The parking enforcement officers you hear so many stories about the harassment and the treatment that they take from people because they have a tag on their windshield, but that doesn't give them any right to be disrespectful to the public - we are public servants we are expected to have thicker skin and take the abuse. And it's mostly verbal abuse - but be professional and be respectful.
But there is a larger issue of striking the balance between enforcement and creating a customer-friendly environment for visitors to places like Federal Hill. Asselin says the city is sending a not-so-subliminal message: Stay away.
Asselin: ``Here I am visiting the city of Providence - I've come to a store where I've heard wonderful things, I've had a great meal in one of the restaurants, now I come back, this is souring my whole experience. I've got a ticket on my car, I'm questioning why am I getting a ticket when there's no sign and now I've got to deal with megabitch. Am I coming back here again? I don't think so.''
Hummel: ``It's not a chamber of commerce moment, is it?''
Asselin: ``No, it's not.''
Hummel: ``Do you understand the business people's concern that - particularly when you have somebody coming in from out of state and they go and get lunch - and get a $20 ticket, not enough to appeal, so they'll go ahead and pay it, it's not a $40 ticket. What's the message going out about returning and they have a little welcome orange welcome when they get back to their car?''
Pare: ``Yeah, that's the balance, we don't want people leaving with a bitter taste, coming to the city and getting a sandwich and that sandwich ends up costing $10 on a top of a $25 parking violation.''
Hummel: ``Do you think this is intentional, or coincidental or accidental?''
Asselin: ``I think it's intentional. I think they're trapping people - the city is looking at any way to make money, but they're hurting the business owners. I'm not the only one that's affected. Many of the people who go to the restaurants around here are parking here because of the limitations of parking on Atwells Avenue. Let's be a little more welcoming to our visitors - find another way to create revenue.
In Providence, Jim Hummel for the Hummel Report.