Moore: Federal Hill’s Parking Meter Lesson

Monday, May 09, 2016


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When the city of Providence decided to expand its parking meter program last year, State Representative (and former long-time city council member and acting mayor) John Lombardi, encouraged the Federal Hill Commerce Association to vehemently oppose the plan. 

But the appetite to fight city hall wasn't there. The business owners on Federal Hill simply didn't have the will to embark on a fight against the city's new revenue generating plan. That lack of a desire to challenge the mayor's revenue enhancing plan to expand parking meters throughout the city (by adding about 50-percent more than the city had last year), is costing 

The mayor's current year budget expected an increase of roughly $1.7 million dollars in additional revenue from the new parking meters this year. The new meters were supposed nto bring in about $4.2 million in additional revenue in subsequent years. 

The plan would have added roughly 700 new meters throughout the city if it had been fully implemented. There were 1400 before the plan was enacted. Those meters will be more "user-friendly", since they accept credit cards.

Oppose Meters

But unlike the business people on Federal Hill as well as the merchants on Wayland Square, the people who own businesses on Hope Street and Wickenden Street mobilized against the plan. They started garnering signatures on petitions opposing the parking meters. They called the mayor's office and their city council members. And they also got in touch with the media to raise awareness about the issue. 

And who could blame them? When Mayor Jorge Elorza campaigned for Mayor in 2014, he consistently said that Providence's budget woes would be solved by economic growth--not increases from tax revenue. Let's face it: parking meters are just taxes by another name. Those taxes do the exact opposite of what Elorza was talking about when he said the city needed to foster economic growth. 

I've heard from too many people that they're avoiding Providence these days due to the crime, the traffic, and the lack of parking. I think that's unfortunate, and a big over-reaction. The capital city offers so much in the way of arts, culture, awesome retail shopping stores (like those on Wickenden Street and Hope Street) and restaurants (like those on Federal Hill).

A Matter of Will

Yet while that may be an irrational mindset, the city shouldn't be doing anything to encourage it. Installing additional parking meters all over the city--making it harder and an inconvenience to park--will only discourage people from coming to Providence. That's not how you promote economic growth. 

The merchants on Hope Street and Wickenden Street understood this, and helped the mayor to understand this as well. The Wickenden Street business owners garnered roughly 1,500 petition signatures opposing the new meters by the beginning of April. The Hope Street merchants were equally effective. 

The administration relented. The meters that were slated to be installed on Hope Street were abandoned in April. The mayor followed suit by abandoning plans for the Wickenden Street meters earlier last week.


In response, Lombardi is attempting to salvage the situation on Federal Hill by arguing that the meters are discriminatory. It's not fair, he asserts, that Federal Hill should have their commerce impeded whereas other, selected areas of the city, don't have to deal with that inconvenience. 

It's great point. But push that point so far as it will go, and it becomes a great argument to remove all of the parking meters throughout the city. That's not a bad idea. As Lombardi points out "they're anti-business". I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for that t happen. 

In any event, the real moral to the story is that when neighborhoods and merchant associations unite in opposition to harmful new policies, good things happen. 

When the business community declines to take action and doesn't organize against government policies that hurt their interests, nothing good happens.

It's always better to make your voice heard. After all, that's the point of democracy. 

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Russell Moore has worked on both sides of the aisle in Rhode Island media, both on politcal campaigns and for newspapers. Send him email at [email protected] Follow him on [email protected] 


Related Slideshow: 10 Things to Know about Elorza’s Fiscal Year 2017 Budget Proposal

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza introduced his Fiscal Year 2017 budget proposal for the city -- here are 10 things you should know. 

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Car Tax Exemption

Elorza's FY17 budget raises the car tax exemption from $1000 to $2000.  

The exemption had once been as high as $6,000 in the City of Providence, which has the highest car tax rate in the state.  

Elorza had pledged during his campaign to raise the examption up from $1000 -- which will have budgetary implications, but had been an issue of importance to Elorza due to its impace on lower-income residents. 


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