Time to pause to Peabody

June 12, 2017

Is there any harm in suggesting the Peabody City Council take a breath and step back from plans to raise hourly parking rates downtown by 300 percent?

The increase in the 25 cents hourly rate coupled with plans for requiring paid parking in the vicinity of City Hall needs more consideration for several reasons. Councilors voted on changes to downtown parking rates last year. But now is a good opportunity to assess improvements made in Peabody Square and on Main Street and ask if parking rate increases are compatible with those improvements.

Councilors should also ask if efforts to make downtown an easier place to shop fit in with a proposed parking rate increase. Delaying a rate increase is not detrimental and any delay is certainly not going to trigger objections from drivers.

Another specific reason to delay a rate increase centers on the maintenance concerns raised last week by Councilor-at-Large David Gravel. Any and all questions about maintenance should be asked and answered before rates are hiked.

Gravel’s concerns focused on downtown meters and the potential “nightmare on Main Street” related to meter maintenance. But his concerns could be extended to the pay and display kiosks proposed for City Hall and Railroad Avenue.

City officials should be able to clearly forecast parking equipment maintenance costs and weigh them against revenue generated by a rate increase before an increase is implemented. They should also visit Lynn and other cities where display kiosks are in use before the council finalizes a rate increase.

The council and Mayor Ted Bettencourt have worked hard to enhance Peabody’s status as a place to visit, dine and shop. Parking rate hikes may make sense when viewed from different vantage points. But a rate increase carries a negative perception that can outweigh the advantages achieved with a rate increase.

Maybe city officials should explore going in the opposite direction on municipal parking and eliminate paid parking in all or parts of downtown? How does the potential revenue loss triggered by eliminating paid parking balance against meter maintenance and replacement and salary costs associated with parking patrols? In addition, how does the attraction of free parking downtown weigh against revenue lost by not having meters in the city’s center?

Government agencies get criticized for talking and deliberating in instead of acting on proposals. But the good reasons for spending more time talking about a parking increase outweigh quick action on a hike. Peabody is on the path to improvements, especially downtown, and councilors should spend more time asking how parking fee hikes fit into those improvements.